Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

If ever there was a film I feel I ought to love more, it's this one.





Terence Davies' autobiographical tale of his life growing up in Kensington, Liverpool - Distant Voices, Still Lives is a film that is very much revered and celebrated. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote that "years from now when practically all the other new movies currently playing are long forgotten, it will be remembered and treasured as one of the greatest of all English films". Jean- Luc Godard called it "magnificent". It won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Belgium Film Critics Association. When it was re-released in 2007 by the BFI, The Guardian proclaimed it as "Britain's forgotten cinematic masterpiece". A 2011 Time Out poll for the 100 Great British Films placed it 3rd. A Sight and Sound 2002 poll for the best films of the last 25 years saw it at 9th place.





And yet I just can't take to it. It's the fragmented snap shot style I guess. It means the narrative, such as it is, is uninvolving. I can understand the approach, it's like watching family photos come to life but like any family photo viewed by someone down the years, the figures present can only ever be remote and aloof. 




Davies explores the Liverpudlian tradition of family sing songs and the characters, singing often direct to the camera around the tables in the pubs or around the fireplace at home, is an interesting device to show emotions that are actually being smothered or repressed in reality. It's one of the strongest elements in the film, standing shoulder to shoulder with the impeccable talented cast and the perfect period evocation.




But for all it's honest insight into working class northern family life, and the personal chimes it rang within me,  I still can't get totally involved in the piece, and that's a crying shame. For the craftsmanship of the film I can understand the plaudits to a certain extent, and I would on that alone rate the film higher, but as a viewing experience I found it lacking and that's why I'm pained to admit I can only give it the rating I have - 3 out of 5.



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