Distant Voices, Still Lives

Distant Voices, Still Lives

I won’t be Dad.

Terence Davies is a name that, at least in Britain, carries a good amount of weight with it, in several ways. Principally, he is revered by many as Britain’s greatest living director, even though his filmography is rather scant compared to other filmmakers of his age and stature. I had never seen one of his films, so I had no opinion on him or on the opinions of others on him either way. Now, having seen Distant Voices, Still Lives, which was only added to the recent edition of the list, I get it. I get why Davies is so respected and lauded, especially in his native country, and it’s a wonder to me that this film wasn’t on the list to begin with. That said, I can also understand how many may not have drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Davies, as it were.

This film, in an interesting structural decision, is actually two films, each barely over feature length, that are screened together. The first, Distant Voices, follows a small family living in 1940s Liverpool; the mother, the three children, and their father, played with raw brutality by Pete Postlethwaite. The father is a beast of a man, all raw emotion, and 9 times out of 10 that emotion is anger of some sort, which he takes out on his family in any way he can. There is no real plot, but instead the film is a series of vignettes and scenes, from various periods in the family’s life, that illustrate what it is like to live under this man of fury and ire, and how their lives are shaped by this main influence to their personalities. This leads into the second film, Still Lives, which picks up the family’s story two years after the chronological end of the first film, which dealt with the father’s passing. The film jumps forward and backward in time very frequently, with absolutely no notice of when the time period has shifted, so it takes a careful and attentive eye to keep track of where we are at any point in time. Davies also made the choice of filming the two halves of the story two years apart, like the characters, with the same cast and crew, so this is really two parts of a single story, which altogether still manages to be a short 80 minutes or so. What I especially enjoyed about the film wasn’t the characterization or the acting, though both were top-notch; it was the look and feel of the film, which was generated in a number of ways. The straight compositions and linear camera movements reminded me eerily of Peter Greenaway, though without that repugnant quality that seems ever-pervasive in those films of his, and it was quite an enjoyment watching the film construct its images, even on the small screen I watched the film on (I can only imagine how much more affecting the film would be on the big screen). The other quality that made the film’s choice of mood was the soundtrack. Almost all the songs are sung by the cast on-screen, and the fact of the characters singing is used in the film as a voice for them where they otherwise would not be able to express their emotions and raw feelings; it is a balm of sorts, that they use to get through the hardships of their lives, and it is the primary thread that keeps the film together and the characters moving forward.

Evidently, a good portion of this film was autobiographical, and if that’s the case then I can’t imagine what a huge weight off his shoulders it must have been for Davies to make this film (or films). If there is no other reason than that as to why Davies made this film, then that’s still all well and good; that’s the only reason Davies needed – catharsis, and he invites us to experience this same catharsis along with him. Like I usually do, I looked around at a few other opinions of this one, and, just as I expected, mine was not necessarily the consensus opinion; there were plenty of people that didn’t enjoy this or find nearly as much merit in it as I did, and to that I can understand. As silly as it may sound, if it weren’t for the reasons that I did come up with as to why this film should be made, let alone seen, then there basically would have been no point to this one. But, to me, there is, even if said point isn’t necessarily concerned with me as a viewer or whether or not I am watching the film. This was great, in pretty much all the ways that I tend to find films great, and it was short to boot, made even easier by the splitting of the film into two parts. I can’t speak for everyone when it comes to seeing this or not, but I was glad I did, and I can at least attest that I’m not alone in my satisfaction, so this is certainly worth a look.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


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