For Reel


A Quiet Passion (2016)
August 18, 2017, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Terence Davies
5 Stars
A Quiet PassionDirector Terence Davies has carved a career out of his haunting, nostalgic portraits of British pastimes. In the semi-autobiographical The Long Day Closes, a a young boy is raised by the beauty and escapism of the cinema screen. Similarly, A Quiet Passion finds Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) as a woman who comes to understand and expand her world through Brontë novels. Although Dickinson has steadfast convictions and a strong opinion regarding marriage’s deadening potential on women, the film is far from a celebration of Dickinson as a figure of social justice—she is instead seen as a woman who rigidly defines the world through strict moral parameters, showing a concern for truth and decorum while neglecting the falsity of piousness. Her contradictions are clearly a fascination for Davies. As much as she neglects a suitor and denies the possibility, an ethereal dream sequence imagines her dark suitor arriving up the stairs. If she is not concerned with fame, she nonetheless clings to the approval of a married reverend. The film humanizes Dickinson through these comparisons, characterizing her as a vulnerable, undoubtedly clinically depressed genius whose idea of what the world should be was never met by the world that was.

Advertisements


The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
March 26, 2012, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Terence Davies

Adapted from Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, The Deep Blue Sea is director Terence Davies’ first narrative feature in over a decade. His unabashed love for pre-1960s Hollywood is evident – though he still favors complex tracking shots and doesn’t tie himself to narrative chronology in the strictest sense, the leading role is very much familiar of the great women’s pictures of the 1940s. Rachel Weisz stars as Hester, a woman who is married to a much older man, William, played with remarkable sensitivity by Simon Russell Beale. Soon, Hester falls for a Royal Air Force pilot, Tom Hiddleston’s Freddie. With echoes of films like Mildred Pierce, Hester’s sexual identity is transformed with the arrival of the dashing young man in her life, and with her erotic awakening comes new, greater emotional stakes and romantic responsibilities. Even if it is not a film that is terribly swept up in romantic idealism, it nonetheless suggests the purest form of love – Davies’ lengthy, final confrontation argues that the most powerful demonstration of affection is the willingness and understanding to let someone go. If the narrative loses some of its momentum in the latter half – partially at the fault of Hiddleston’s character both in performance and on the page, as one never fully understands why Hester would continue to love him – Davies’ reliably awe-inspiring mise en scène is consistent throughout. There’s a terrific long take that examines a group of people who huddle together in a subway station as bombs are heard from above.



The Long Day Closes (1992)
March 26, 2012, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Terence Davies

What has been called Terence Davies’ second autobiographical trilogy – preceded by Distant Voices and Still Lives, two short films which were released together as his first feature in 1988 – concludes with his masterpiece, The Long Day Closes. Like Distant Voices, Still Lives, he sets his focus on Liverpool, here about a decade after the end of the war. Whereas the previous film had no surrogate for Davies – in fact, that film doesn’t have a particularly strong sense of character outside of the memorably vicious father – the young boy at the center of The Long Day Closes is clearly a substitute for the filmmaker. An early shot shows the boy longingly glancing at a shirtless bricklayer. With beautiful economy, Davies articulates his burgeoning identity as a homosexual, and the subsequent guilt that he feels because of it (later, the same bricklayer is seen in the boy’s daydreams as Christ on the cross). The film’s most memorable sequence occurs near the end of the picture. “Tammy”, the song sung by Debbie Reynolds in 1957’s Tammy and the Bachelor, plays on the soundtrack as the audience of a cinema is presented in an overhead shot that slowly pans from right to left. This dissolves into a similar shot of church-goers from above, and finally dissolves again into students in a classroom. Davies is a master at finding poetry in the ordinary, exemplified no better than in such a montage – as Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, his achronological style favors “emotional continuity over narrative continuity.” This could be called one of the finest coming-of-age pictures, although categorizing it as such does a tremendous disservice to its incomparable sense of invention and discovery.



Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
March 23, 2012, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

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.