For Reel

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
March 23, 2012, 6:40 pm
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Director: Terence Davies

The convergence of two films made two years apart, Distant Voices, Still Lives was the debut feature of Terence Davies. If he’s come a significant distance in his characterizations, he was already exercising a remarkable control over setting, period detail, and a suggestion of the way in which popular culture can linger in one’s subconscious. Davies has spoken of his abusive father in interviews, but nonetheless the intense Pete Postlethwaite rings false as the patriarch. This, however, may be the point – just as one distorts people and places within their own memory, he perhaps exaggerates the domestic melodrama in order to suggest the lingering emotional weight of these particularly violent moments. Davies’ picturesque embellishments – those long, sweeping camera tracks that explore, among other things, the communal singing within a pub – find a strange footing between realism and memorial fraud, creating an almost surreal poetry within natural situations. One particularly striking moment involves a mother perched on her windowsill in order to clean the windows. The soundtrack plays “Taking a Chance on Love”, as if to emphasize her self-destructive passivity towards her abusive husband. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but it transcends the expected cynicism – it’s a profound image of forgiveness, a valentine to his courageous mother.