The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Like a puzzle with half of the pieces missing

with 14 comments

“So this piece probably belongs to the sky, don’t you think?”

“Nah, I rather think it’s from the water. It’s a reflection you know.”
“What about this one? It looks greenish. It could from one of those bushes in the background”.
“Yeah. Let’s put it in that corner. It’s just tentative. We can always move it at later point”.

Something odd happened as the audience left the theatre after watching  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Rather than leaving the place in a hurry to catch buses, release the babysitter or tend to their thirst in a bar, people assembled in small groups in the lobby to discuss something.

I imagined it was the movie. Like me they were trying to put together a picture that made reasonably much sense out of the scattered pieces that had been tossed to us at them during the night.

It was a bit of a challenge considering we only had had access to half of the fragments. Someone had apparently decided to get rid of the other half either to make it more interesting or – more likely – to keep down the running time.

It didn’t get easier since some of the pieces looked so deceptively similar to each other. The grey offices, the men in trench coat uniforms, the cryptic conversations that sounded about the same were mixed into a blur. It was a wonderfully made and it caught the atmosphere of the 70s and the cold war in a way that I only think someone who previously has directed “Four Shades of Brown” is capable of. But well made or not – it felt like a blur. Or rather a riddle, made up on purpose to give the audience something to work on.

Requires attention
From the start of the movie it was clear there wouldn’t be any free ride. This was a movie that required you to remain alert and watch out for clues that could bring clarity to what to make of the pieces. So I grabbed Smiley’s glasses firmly and tried to hold on to them throughout the movie as we jumped back and forth between the past and the present. You see, he had two pairs with slightly different shapes, and depending on which pair he wore I knew approximately where on the timeline he was, early or late.

Every time I got confused I reminded myself: “The glasses, Jessica!” “Check the glasses!”

Sadly enough this trick wasn’t enough to keep me on track throughout the entire film. It was the last show for the night and I was tired. I probably shouldn’t have bothered to watch anything more complicated than a sitcom show. It didn’t take too long before I had to start slapping myself on the chin once in a while, pinching my skin, chewing my nails and pulling out thread from my hair, once at a time, all of this just to keep me from falling asleep, which was tempting. I knew that if I did it would be a disaster. With some movies a little nap isn’t such it’s not a big deal; you can afford drifting away for a little while and catch up later, but this wasn’t one of them. If I wanted to have any chance whatsoever to solve the mystery alongside with Smiley I had to pay attention. Obviously I failed.

A post theatre analysis
This film experience could have been a bit of a flop on my side if it hadn’t been for my husband. Most of the time I watch movies on my own, but for once I had company and as we walked home in the night we ran a post-theatre discussion between us.

Piece after piece was held up, inspected, and talked about until we could put it in the area where we thought it belonged. I didn’t contribute as much as my husband, but I blame this on that he has watched far more agent films and TV series from the 70s than I have. I was more into detective stories at that time.

Aware of my shortcomings in this field I had had taken precautions before watching TTSS. I had tried to read the novel by John le Carré. I say “tried”, because it turned out that the book is just as hard to follow as the movie and I abandoned it after 100 pages, when at which point I still didn’t know what the book was about.

While leaving the book I reassured myself that I probably would understand the movie without reading it. How hard could it be? Well, very hard as you know. It took our joint forces and a long walk to figure out of the gist of it. We just made it in time for our arrival at home.

Costume drama
Considering those difficulties you might think I didn’t enjoy the movie very much. But as a matter of fact I did – and not only out of nationalistic pride over what the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has accomplished.

You don’t need to know the details of the plot to appreciate the cluster of really good British actors. You don’t need to know exactly who is spying on whom to enjoy the cinematography and design. There was something in this dull looking world that spoke to me and made nostalgic.

My husband labeled the movie “costume drama”, and I think he’s onto something. Costume dramas can work pretty well even if you don’t understand the details of the plot. What matters most is that you get the opportunity to hang out with the characters and spend time in their world.

I imagine that TTSS will be better the next time I watch it. It will be easier to figure out where the pieces belong and perhaps I could even find a few more that I didn’t notice the first time around.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (Tomas Alfredson, UK, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 6, 2012 at 2:01 am

14 Responses

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  1. Nice review, I want to see this so bad. Sadly not playing near us yet. Hope this gets a larger release soon.


    January 6, 2012 at 2:46 am

    • Thanks! I figured it might be one of the bigger releases of the year, but maybe I’m overestimating its commercial importance. I hope you get to see it. For the struggles I had I still recommend it.


      January 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

  2. Interesting. I think I’ll have trouble following it, because I imagine my mind will wander for a few seconds and that will be the end. Still, it does look really good, and if I’m in a cinema there’ll be less distractions so if I get a chance I’ll watch it. And I do really love Tomas Alfredson, plus everyone in the cast!


    January 6, 2012 at 7:10 am

    • Yep, I love Alfredson as well and the cast too. Don’t worry too much about not following, it’s still enjoyable. But prepare with coffee or tea!


      January 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

  3. This is coming out on Blu-Ray in the coming weeks and I am finally going to be sent a copy for review before then. It seems like AGES since it was in the cinemas here.

    I am not convinced I will like it. Seems a very average score world wide.

    Thanks Jessica

    Scott Lawlor

    January 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

    • It IS ages since it was in your cinemas. It must have been months ago and I have no idea what has taken it so long to come to the rest of the world. I don’t know what you’ll make if it tbh. Maybe it depends on your agent movie experience? If you’re into that kind of stuff.


      January 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  4. “With some movies a little nap isn’t such it’s not a big deal; you can afford drifting away for a little while and catch up later….”

    I will forever pretend that I didn’t see this. Please do not remind me of it. I am at a loss for words. That has only happened on two previous occasions in my entire life, so it might be some small source of pride.

    All the best,


    January 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    • Hehe! I’m just being honest here! It’s not like it happens in every movie but once in a while I have to struggle. The only time I can recall where I really slept and for way too long was Wings of Desire, the Wim Wender’s movie. Funny enough my husband had exactly the same issue so when we came out from it none of us could update the other and tell what had happened.


      January 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      • Not the point, though. If you only want to know the plot of a film, you don’t have to see it at all. Just have somebody give you a summary.

        What you don’t know, however, is how sublte a piece of acting, how good a scene or whatever you might miss if you are not totally concentrated the whole time.

        But as I said, I am going to forget … have now forgotten! … that I ever saw that remark! 😀

        All the best,


        January 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm

  5. […] Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – like a puzzle with half of the pieces missing. But very stylish and well made. […]

  6. I just watched it and I enjoyed it. For the first part of the movie I felt that everything moved too slow but it made it up in the second part of the movie. My attention wavered for a few seconds in the second halve of the movie which made me loose a few threads.

    Still, I enjoyed it. The whole movie just feels like it’s made in the seventies: the commie terror, the costumes, the decors and even the lighting. And even if it’s hard to follow, the story is interesting.

    Let the right one in was one of my favorite three movies of 2008, this one will have to do with an OK.


    January 17, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    • Yes, only a few seconds of lack of attention is enough to loose it, I’m afraid. But like you I still enjoyed it. Let the right one in was very good indeed and I’m really looking forward to see what he’ll come up with in the future. Right now not very much is happening in Swedish film so egotistically I hope he’ll come back and do something here.


      January 18, 2012 at 9:48 am

  7. I didn’t find it that difficult to grapple with the pieces, but I do think it’s a film that leaves you to make the connections and it’s not everyone’s strong suit. That’s part of what I appreciate about the film. It’s not concerned with clearly marking when the film transitions in time or making sure the audience can follow every last detail. It treats us with respect and trusts that we’ll take the effort to grapple with the material to put everything toegether.

    James Blake Ewing

    January 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    • Yeah I mostly put the blame on me for not following. Funny thing was though that sometimes the clues were VERY obvious. Such as that lightener and the changing rail. Not that subtle.
      In any case I liked the film. I hope that was clear.


      January 22, 2012 at 7:20 am

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