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“Distant Voices, Still Lives,” Now Restored, Bustles Beautifully Between Memories

The working-class, mid-twentieth-century Liverpudlian characters who populate Terence Davies’s Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) sometimes glance in the direction of the camera, their self-conscious near-posing and the director’s portrait-like framing evoking the flipping-through of an old photo album. This combination of intimacy and remove — the startling emotional jolt of seeing a family in mourning stare toward you in silence, an image of the felled patriarch hanging on the wall behind them — characterizes Davies’s enthralling thirty-year-old debut feature, an autobiographically informed but hardly event-reliant memory piece. (It returns this week in a 4K restoration.) Davies’s reminiscences, centered on one Catholic clan, unfold according to a peculiar emotional logic: The characters are more comfortable singing than speaking. (“Bye Bye Blackbird” diffuses a barroom argument.) Scenes aren’t shaped with typical dramatic roundness, but rather pick up and cut off at surprise intervals. Even an encounter with stark interpersonal stakes — a confrontation between army-age son Tony (Dean Williams) and abusive father Tommy (Pete Postlethwaite) — is structured as a sort of de-escalation. Davies opens on an expression of mighty rage, Tony punching his fists through a window (“Fight me, you bastard!”), then transitions abruptly to a near-the-fireplace shot of Tony holding two beers in his bloodied hands, Tommy flatly but quietly refusing his boy’s offer of a drink. Such disjunctive stops and starts recur across Davies’s movie, whose look-back form — all elegiacally drifting camera movements and belted-out bar songs — endures as a grand cinematic anomaly.

Like Davies’s spiritually aligned and similarly song-rich The Long Day Closes (1992), Distant Voices, Still Lives opens with a downpour; here, the raindrops fall on a front step stocked with fresh milk bottles. Unlike that later movie, which maintains a mostly childhood-specific p.o.v., Distant Voices, Still Lives loops with abandon through the years and personalities, observing deaths, births, hospital visits, weddings, holidays. Eileen (Angela Walsh), one of the two daughters of Tommy and “Mother” (Freda Dowie), gushes over a bottle of Chanel perfume gifted to her by Dave (Michael Starke), whom she later marries. (In The Long Day Closes, the women seated around a table wish they had Chanel.) Maisie (Lorraine Ashbourne), Eileen’s sister, asks her father for money to go to the dance, which he agrees to only if she’ll clean the cellar; she scrubs the floors, and then he beats her with a broomstick. At a crowded pub, Tony places a seemingly never-ending drink order; seconds later, he shepherds a tray’s worth of cold beers into a bustling room of crooning loved ones. As kids, the siblings spy on their father brushing a horse and singing to himself — a moment of tenderness for this hard man.

On occasion, Davies interrupts the thoughtful solemnity with touches of humor: Eileen offhandedly calling her loud-chewing husband “Mouth Almighty” is a barb worthy of Cynthia Nixon’s Emily Dickinson in Davies’s A Quiet Passion. Stylistically, some of his maneuvers create an almost confounding mix of the tragic and the unhinged, as when he depicts one accidental disaster two men falling through a pane of glass via an extravagant slow-motion shot that lasts around thirty seconds. A sudden, out-of-context image like that one is typical of the sprawl of Distant Voices, Still Lives, but the intention behind other structural decisions is more clear. Early on, Eileen and her good friend Micky (Debi Jones) loiter outside Eileen’s house after an evening of dancing, hoping to get in one final cigarette before Tommy’s strict curfew. Obviously very cool and destined for better, more glamorous things, the women covertly mock Eileen’s father’s social restrictions (“It’s worse than Alcatraz, isn’t it?”). Years later, the two share another private chat at the end of a long night out. Micky raises the specter of future get-together plans, but the conversation only amounts to Eileen’s halfhearted “We’ll see, kid.” The gradations of life — spouses, responsibilities, fatigue — have caught up with them, wearing down their youthful exuberance. As in the rest of the movie, Davies seizes this crushing morsel of wisdom practically on the fly, before rushing on to the next memory, the next song, the next glass of beer.

Distant Voices, Still Lives
Directed by Terence Davies
Arrow Films
Opens August 31, Metrograph

 

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The Beatles Rap in New York

On August 22, 1966, the Beatles flew into New York and gave two press conferences at the Warwick Hotel on West 54th Street. Asked their opinions on the war in Vietnam, they were succinct, John Lennon saying, “We don’t like it,” and George Harrison adding, “War’s wrong and that’s all.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”722778″ /]

When a reporter asked, “Would you care to elaborate?” Paul McCartney said, “We would elaborate, but not here. …  In England people will listen a bit more to what you say. Here everything you say is picked up and turned against you. There’s more bigotry in America.” The Voice‘s reporter, James Kempton (son of the well-known commentator Murray), noted, “Every pencil in the room came down.” And that’s when the quick-thinking 24-year-old McCartney decided that it might, in fact, be a very good moment to elaborate: “There are more people so there are more bigots.”

Still smarting from the controversy he had caused a few months earlier when he said that the Fab Four was “more popular than Jesus,” Lennon quipped to his bandmate, “Say any more and you’ll be explaining all about it on the next tour.”

At a second meet-and-greet session, this time with fans who had won a radio station contest to lob softball questions at the Liverpudlians, one young woman held up a leaf and asked McCartney, “Do you recognize this? It’s supposed to come from your front lawn.”

“Sure,” he replied, “I’ve missed it for months!”

In this same issue we get Richard Goldstein in his Pop Eye column reviewing the Beatles’ Revolver album, calling it “a revolutionary record, as important to the expansion of pop territory as was Rubber Soul.” A little further on, Goldstein zeroes in on Revolver‘s last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” rhapsodizing that “No one can say what actually inspired this song, but its place in the pantheon of psychedelic music is assured. … While not unprecedented, the combination of acid-Buddhist imagery and a rock beat has never before been attempted with such complexity. At first, the orchestration sounds like Custer’s last stand. Foghorn-like organ chords and the sound of birdlike screeching overshadows the vocal. But the overall effect of this hodgepodge is a very effective suspension of musical reality.”

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NYFF: Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja Sends Viggo Mortensen to an Earthly Paradise

Generally speaking, all a viewer needs to do while watching a Lisandro Alonso film is look and listen. Starting with La Libertad (2001), the Argentine director’s features — the rest of which are Los Muertos (2004), Fantasma (2006), Liverpool (2008), and now Jauja — have foregone anything resembling conventional, narrative-based filmmaking. Alonso’s recurring subject — the relationship between people and the landscapes that surround them — is disarmingly primal, showing non-actors conduct their daily business (La Libertad’s subject is a woodcutter, for instance) in something resembling real-time. Alonso is not interested in backstory or psychology, at least not in the ways these are usually broached and exploited in mainstream moviemaking.

What fascinates him is the act of taking his camera into distant, rarely filmed locales — sparsely populated forests in La Libertad and Los Muertos, Tierra del Fuego in Liverpool — and capturing day-to-day life that otherwise would never be seen on-screen in such intricate detail. The New York Mets hat in La Libertad, the bag of bread and the jug of wine in Los Muertos, and the bottle of vodka in Liverpool are all among the most memorable objects in recent cinema, each invested with Alonso’s genuine, generous curiosity in the mundane.

Jauja, Alonso’s new work, both hews to this artistic outline and departs from it in pivotal respects. Most notably, Jauja stars the dexterous Viggo Mortensen (also the film’s co-producer and, along with Buckethead, a co-composer of the score), making this the first feature in which Alonso has worked with a professional actor. Moreover, Alonso collaborated on the screenplay with the poet Fabian Casas, and numerous critics have been quick to note that the establishing scenes of Jauja contain more dialogue than all of Alonso’s previous features combined. (It’s hard to imagine what a screenplay for those earlier films would even look like.) But Alonso shows us these conversations with extended takes, many of them stationary long shots, in which the characters’ physical behavior (Mortensen drying his feet as his companion buckles his pants) is as central as the words. And, as if assuring his faithful followers that he hasn’t altered his method, Jauja’s first scene opens with Mortensen’s back to the camera — a sly move that hints that, in Alonso’s work, the landscape is just as important as the people.

An opening title card, printed in Alonso’s standard red-on-black font, introduces the land of Jauja (pronounced “how-ha”) as a haunting, mythical place: “The only thing that is known for certain is that all who tried to find this earthly paradise got lost on the way.” This sticks in the mind as Alonso gets down to business setting up the situation. Set in 1882 in Patagonia during the Conquest of the Desert, the movie finds Mortensen’s character, the Danish engineer Gunnar Dinesen, departing from his encampment after waking up one night and finding his teenage daughter, Ingeborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger) missing. Donning his uniform, packing the essentials (a rifle, a sword, a telescope, a canteen), and mounting his horse, Dinesen rides off into the night in search for her. It’s at this point that Jauja transitions into typical, wordless Alonso territory, with Mortensen battling the void of the desert on his own.

Shot on 35mm (with rounded-edge frames) in the Academy ratio, Jauja is a work of outrageous beauty, with Alonso and DP Timo Salminen creating images of breathtakingly rich colors (green moss, red pants, blue dresses) and vast open spaces: The backgrounds of each frame stretch all the way into infinity, rendering Dinesen’s destination perpetually, worryingly out-of-reach. Shot by shot, scene by scene, Jauja reminds us how intimidating (if also staggeringly gorgeous) this enormous landscape can be: behind any tree, rock, or bush could lurk an enemy.

But Alonso’s concerns here are less corporeal than they are mystical and other-worldly — the concluding section of Jauja, in which Dinesen descends into some black witch-hole in the middle of a surging storm, is so unexpected, confusing, and time-warping that it might as well be subtitled “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.” It’s this section that cements Jauja as Alonso’s most narratively knotty film yet — the one where looking and listening might not quite be enough — but the underlying vision of his cinema, its ability to captivate on a purely image-by-image basis, retains its customary potency.

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Echo & the Bunnymen

Though far past their post-punk heyday of the ’80s, Liverpool’s Echo & The Bunnymen have managed to remain a relevant force on the rock scene over the years, steadily releasing solid material through breakups and various lineup changes. Today, vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant are the Bunnymen’s only original members in tact, and the two are still at it. This June’s Meteorites, the band’s first album in five years, is among its best in ages, a spacey-sounding new trip anchored by a dose of nostalgia.

Sat., Aug. 16, 8 p.m., 2014

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Let It Be: The (Un)Fab Four

Let It Be, a new concert-style “celebration” of the Beatles and their ubiquitous music—which you would hardly think needs more celebrating—is basically a living greatest-hits album, an ambulatory boxed set, only performed by a bunch of ringers. (To be fair, the glorified tribute band is quite musically competent, if hammy and applause-hungry.)

But because the show is so crushingly boring—a hard night’s night—it helps to pass the time by considering it as a bizarre counter-historical thought experiment. What if the Beatles hadn’t broken up, John hadn’t died, and the band never felt shy about playing live? What if, instead, they became greedy and cynical—and, when their creative drive stalled, they began endlessly touring, performing big, glitzy, sold-out shows of just the hits? Those pandering, self-parodying concerts might have looked like Let It Be. (That’s why you could never do a similar show about the Rolling Stones—they’re a concert-musical version of themselves already.)

The story sketches a bare-bones musical hagiography from the Cavern Club to the rooftop of Apple Records, avoiding any whiff of acrimony or controversy. Just the YouTube highlights, thanks: Shea, Ed Sullivan, that gooey “All You Need Is Love” performance. The setlist shuns the back catalogue’s woollier corners—no “Helter Skelter” here. This sanitized myth has no room for lost weekends or dirty deals, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or Mark David Chapman, Yoko or Wings. Just the cuddly, eternal Beatles: mop-top muppets of ’60s peace, love, and good feelings.

In between numbers, the performers—wittering in cartoon Liverpool accents—hit on the boomer-thick crowd, making cranky jokes about “when CDs were black” (i.e., were records). (The audience demographics add an eerie dimension to the show’s rendition of “When I’m Sixty-Four.”) Projections of falling bombs and old television commercials—Bosco!—serve as historical shorthand: the ’60s for dummies.

But let’s not pretend this fluff-monster’s intended audience has any such qualms. Nostalgia-drunk spectators start singing along during the preshow music and don’t ever really stop. (When anyone appears to be in danger of sitting still and thinking for a moment, performers rush downstage, urging more and better clapping.)

If you detect a faint tremor while watching the show, it might just be the A train—or maybe it’s John Lennon, spinning in his grave.

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Wuthering Heights: Black Like Me

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s remarkable new adaptation of Wuthering Heights comes packing some redoubtable weapons, including the most atmospheric ultra-realism the story has ever seen, an awesome sense of the Yorkshire landscape, and no small payload of brooding poeticism. But undoubtedly, its coup de grâce has everything to do with race. Brontëans may well be shocked at Arnold’s reshaping the classic-lit tale, via the conception of Heathcliff as a black man, and casting Yorkshire non-pros Solomon Glave (young) and James Howson (adult) as the “dark-hearted” orphan-turned-heartbroken-titan.

It’s only a few steps to the left, and devotees of the book will see the relevance right away. For more than 150 years, and through countless versions remolded for movie, radio, TV, and theater (including three operas, one composed by Bernard Herrmann and never performed during his lifetime), the young Heathcliff of the story’s early passages has been defined as he was by Emily Brontë: a dirty, “dark,” and swarthy lad; a “gipsy,” culled from the slums of Liverpool (a port fraught with immigrants). But in all iterations, as the lad grew into manhood, he always became a mere Englishman distinguished only by his black hair and a cruel disposition. However much Brontë dripped suggestions into her narrator’s minds about Heathcliff’s possible mixed race, the role has always gone to white actors, from Laurence Olivier to Timothy Dalton to Tom Hardy, with nary a trace of swartness. (The one exception might be Luis Buñuel’s 1954 film, in which everyone is Mexican.)

To be fair, we could read the mid-1800s English use of “dark” and “gypsy” as code for virtually anybody without discernibly proper British breeding. But it has been a vague and mysterious quality that Arnold has now made concrete and undeniable, doubling down on Brontë’s ideas and steering the whole ship away from tragi-cosmic romance and toward whole-hog social tragedy, suffering the ghosts of slavery. This is intimated further by Arnold with a glimpse of the shirtless Heathcliff, his back scored with whip marks. In the 1770s, when the story is set, a black child was rare, even in Liverpool, the African chattel of the busy Brit-run slave trade going almost exclusively to British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese colonies in the Americas.

Which would make a black Heathcliff in Yorkshire an absolute stranger in a strange land, about whom specific bigoted norms would not even have been fully formed. Even so, his very presence in the manor houses of Brontë’s imagination represents a primal taboo, a violent invasion of the First World by the Third. (Arnold’s late-18th-century England feels quite Third as it is.) On top of that, talking about taboos, this is an interracial love story, in a time and place where, for most Brits, merely the chasm
between the classes, not races, was more than enough to ruin lives and destroy families and disenfranchise entire swaths of the population.

Unlike in the theater, the use of race this way has not been common in movies. Most often, the appearance of a black actor/character in a role ordinarily doled out to whites is a device used as a joke (as in 1974’s Blazing Saddles), or as a cudgel against racial bigotry, à la Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Of course, you could say virtually any movie about
endemic racism, from Sergeant Rutledge (1960) to The Man (1972) to Far From Heaven (2002), uses this dialectic, simply by dramatic virtue of having the white characters wonder how in hell the black characters came to be so deeply in their midst. In this Our Age of Denzel, this idea has pleasingly dissipated, so that Washington taking on Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing (1993) signifies absolutely nothing. One must search for historical contexts in which to raise the point at all. In the ’90s, critic David Thomson opined that Morgan Freeman might be the only living American actor with stature enough to play Lincoln, as irony might have it; not long thereafter, Dennis Haysbert was the unremarked-upon modern president in 24 (2001–2006), a tenure that, it seemed, suffered less barely repressed racist hatred across the country than the real-life movie Obama began to unspool two years later.

At least now a production of Othello, in any country, runs a slightly better risk of not casting a white man in blackface as the moor, a situation that is a dozen years old at best. In terms of renowned texts, if not Hollywood blockbusters, an actor’s race still matters, and potentially in powerful ways. How would Hugo’s Les Misérables or Kafka’s The Trial play out with persecuted black men at their centers? What if, in a film version of Faulkner’s Light in August that doesn’t exist, Joe Christmas is unambiguously black? Can and should classic works about social stress still pretend they happen in an all-white world?

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The Power of Restraint in the Films of Terence Davies

With The Deep Blue Sea, the great British director Terence Davies returns to the postwar period —though in a sense, he has never left. Born in 1945, Davies’s cinema is defined by a mixed pity and fondness for the world of yesterday, a past he seemingly finds impossible to put behind him or to do without. The era’s hypocritical propriety and quivering repression has most frequently been held up for “enlightened,” Pleasantville-style condescension, but Davies is a great historical filmmaker because he feels the period too intimately to mock its rituals and mores, knows that no progress occurs without loss.

The Deep Blue Sea is only Davies’s seventh film, his first since 2008’s documentary Of Time and the City—a tessellated arrangement of archival footage that conjured up the working-class Liverpool of his upbringing, youngest of 10 in a crowded Catholic family—and his first fiction feature since his towering 2000 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. The release of a new film by Davies, then, is a rare event and cause for what amounts to a citywide celebration: Kicking off this week, BAM’s six-film Davies retro will be followed immediately by a week-long Film Forum run for The Long Day Closes (1992), with The Deep Blue Sea opening in between, on March 23.

Nothing, it seems, comes quick or easy for Davies. After spending his young adulthood in menial white-collar work, he escaped to Coventry Drama School. There, nurturing a privately gestated sensibility, Davies emerged to repurpose his memories, including verboten same-sex desires, into the life of alter ego Robert Tucker in three short films bundled together in 1984 as The Terence Davies Trilogy. Davies’s burgeoning reputation was cemented with 1988’s diptych Distant Voices, Still Lives, a cycle of scenes drawn from the author’s brutal boyhood—Pete Postlethwaite plays the petty-tyrant dad—and 1992’s The Long Day Closes, which recounts a stultifyingly shy, bullied boy’s refuge in movie houses.

Although not drawn from Davies’s biography, The Deep Blue Sea returns to Distant Voices‘ one-track shuttle between the terrace house and pub. Adapted from a 1952 play by Sir Terence Rattigan, Sea concerns a married woman, Lady Hester (Rachel Weisz), leaving her husband, a high court judge some years her senior (Simon Russell Beale), to follow a sexually fulfilling, emotionally destructive affair with a former RAF pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston).

Rattigan’s estate commissioned the film from Davies—whose difficulties in securing financing are legendary—on the occasion of the centenary of the playwright’s birth. In adapting the film, Davies bashed Rattigan’s talky, exposition-heavy play to bits and fashioned the fragments into a mosaic of telling moments. “The nature of cinema is that it’s so powerful, it can take a very, very small thing and make it huge, and take a huge thing, and make it intimate,” Davies says of his retooling of Rattigan’s play while speaking on the phone from the U.K. on the evening before he’s to travel to the States and begin making the promotional rounds for his new film.

Davies’s focus has always been stethoscopic, listening for the drama beneath the surface. “If obliquity were a vice, we should all be tainted,” says Wharton’s heroine, Lily Bart, in House of Mirth, and it’s one vice that commands Davies’s fascination. “I am drawn to the past, maybe more than I ought to be,” says Davies, who, as much as the deferential conformity of yesteryear, seems to deplore contemporary license, which makes the oblique obsolete. “The first thing that goes is subtlety; the first thing that goes is any kind of restraint or even wit sometimes. I don’t know how to deal with that in the modern world.”

In the course of our 40-minute chat, Davies mourns a general decline in civility, “Spanish resorts that the British have simply ruined,” a consuming obsession with fame, and a culture where keeping up appearances—the sense of “holding a pose” that inspires his formal compositions—has been replaced by another type of display: “People used to be restrained. At funerals, men weren’t allowed to cry because women didn’t like it. It was women who didn’t like to see their men cry. . . . All those things have changed now in this country. Everybody cries all the time.”

Davies’s films sound a requiem for the passing of a unified social world with clearly printed rules while never letting us forget how that same world could stunt and warp lives that didn’t conform. Typical of his ambivalence is his attitude toward the church. In Of Time and the City, Davies regrets his “years wasted in useless prayer” with one breath while with another, he mocks today’s “deconsecrated Catholic churches now made into restaurants as chic as anything abroad. . . . Is this happiness? Is this perfection?”

“Having had that faith and then lost it and nothing to replace it, that’s one of the worst feelings of despair. There’s nothing worse than that,” Davies says today. “I remember it happened when I was 22. It was at the offertory part of the Mass. I just got up and walked out and said, ‘It’s all a lie.’ And so that part of you dies, and it’s never filled with anything except perhaps a lot of doubt.”

The secular religion of sex is no succor. Throughout Sea, Hester is warned against the folly of following her libido: “Beware of passion—it always leads to something ugly,” warns her mother-in-law, while Hester’s vicar father warns of “the pettiness of the physical.” This is, of course, the sort of prudence that smugly modern movies mock, but what makes Sea disturbing is that it never patly disproves this advice. Davies is quite frank about his own anxiety over grand amour. “Possessiveness and distrust and defeat and all those things . . . I couldn’t take it. I could not take it, which is why I’ve been celibate since 1980. I simply can’t take all that.” There is, however, a new measure of hope in Sea—for unlike Lily Bart, Hester lives to love another day.

Davies, hopefully, will find his own outlets, and he rattles off a list of potential projects in the offing: There is the long-rumored adaptation of Sunset Song, a 1932 Scotch novel of abiding feminine endurance by Lewis Grassic Gibbon; an original screenplay about Emily Dickinson, a social outsider after his own heart; and finally, and most surprisingly, an adaptation of an Ed McBain novel, He Who Hesitates. When I suggest to Davies that this is the perfect title for his next retrospective—think of the boy, face pressed to the window, in Long Day Closes; Lily Bart, dying proud but virginal—he laughs long and concurs.

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GROUP HUG

Remember when Davy Jones started crooning “Girl” in The Brady Bunch Movie, then was alarmed when power-ballad guitars kicked in, then shrugged and went full Steve Perry with it? That was awesome. No guarantees that the Monkees will acclimate to current musical trends with the same panache when they reunite for their 45th anniversary (though “Daydream Believer” would sound excellent under a Nicki Minaj verse). The tour, which kicked off in Liverpool, wends its way to Beacon Theatre tonight; original members Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork will all be on hand to sing their frothy ’60s-pop hits, surely as adorably as they did once on their happy-go-lucky TV show. They get older, but nostalgia stays the same age.

Thu., June 16, 8 p.m., 2011

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Jobber Adrift at Sea Takes Leave in Liverpool

As with his previous films, Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool is defined by its trajectory: A taciturn isolato—here, a merchant sailor named Farrel—travels to the ends of the Earth: in this case, his desolate Tierra del Fuego hometown. Liverpool opens with a big blast of neo surf, and coasts on that energy for the movie’s 84 minutes, ending with a shot of corresponding impact.

Before his freighter navigates Cape Horn, Farrel gets permission to take shore leave, explaining (in the movie’s talkiest scene) that he wants to find out if his mother is still alive. Then he packs his duffel, goes ashore, eats in a dive wallpapered with an incongruously verdant landscape, visits a lonely strip club, hitches a ride on a flatbed truck, jumps off in the middle of nowhere, and crosses a snowy field to a rudimentary settlement, where, after dining in the ultimate no-frills cantina, he spies on a house that might once have been his own, gets drunk, and passes out. This not-so-excellent adventure is captured, mainly using available light, mostly in middle shot. The takes are long, and real-time is frequent. Alonso’s brand of minimalism is funky, uninflected, and given to moments of unexpected beauty, as when Farrel first goes up on deck. The tone ranges between withholding and enigmatic. Landscape trumps character, although the human heart is the central mystery; the emphasis is on the moment, but formalism rules.

Alonso has stylistic affinities with an international group of youngish Festival directors—Albert Serra, Pedro Costa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Fred Kelemen are the best known—who might be called exponents of New Realism or the New Depressives. Each, though, has his own personal interests. Alonso’s—as explicated in his three previous movies: La Libertad (2001), Los Muertos (2004), and Fantasma (2006)—involve the riddle of everyday activities and the impossibility of relationships. Farrel awakes to hear some crusty local, old enough to be his father, wondering just what he’s doing here in the back of beyond: “Nobody knows you now—why did you come back?” Farrel’s ancient, bedridden mother neither recognizes nor remembers him; in the closest thing to making a connection, he is solicited by a woman in the household young enough to be his daughter.

Before heading back over the snow (to his freighter, to his death?), Farrel gifts the apparently simple-minded girl with some money and a cheap souvenir keychain purchased in a foreign port. In the last (key) shot, she’s seen curiously fingering this trinket in the same way you might, after watching Liverpool, ponder the visceral experience that has been lodged in your consciousness like a stone.

jhoberman@villagevoice.com

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Liverpool

Dir. Lisandro Alonso (2008).
Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s movies are defined by trajectory. Here a merchant sailor travels to the ends of the earth-his desolate Tierro del Fuego hometown. The takes are long and real time is frequent. Alonso’s minimalism is funky and noninflected; the emphasis is on the moment, but formalism rules. Liverpool provides a visceral experience that lodges in one’s consciousness like a stone.

Wednesdays-Sundays, 7 & 9 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 7, 7 & 9 p.m.; Tue., Sept. 8, 7 & 9 p.m. Starts: Sept. 2. Continues through Sept. 6, 2009