Liverpool (2008)

14 05 2011

A nice, low-key enough film that doesn’t really pack much of a punch beyond some extraordinary shots. It’s very much in the mold of the new European minimalism, which means there isn’t really enough unique to elevate it beyond similar minded movies. On the other hand, I’ve been away from this kind of filmmaking long enough that it’s become difficult to separate it from your typical film of this sort. It’s a nice enough story, but never really enough there to make it truly earth-shattering. It looks really nice, has some heart to it, but never goes into the territory of Dumont or Tsai or any other director that has transformed such an aesthetic into something beyond just long static shots.

I will give credit to director Lisandro Alonso for picking out some fantastic landscapes, all of which seem to conflict with whatever images one thinks of when they think of Argentina. Not to discredit Alonso’s originality, but I definitely saw shades of Alain Tanner’s gorgeous vision of rural Switzerland or Claude Jutra’s illustration of small-town Quebec. There’s always something positive to be said about photographing what hasn’t been photographed before. If that sounds cryptic, then excuse me, but it’s hard to give credit to Alonso for his film’s greatest strength: the power of his photography.

The story, what little there is of one, is actually quite nice too. The main protagonist, Farrel, returns home after abandoning it (we presume) at a very early age. The homecoming element is really subdued, as the lack of dialogue is compounded by the fact that Farrel’s family doesn’t do much to acknowledge him. When they do, there is an overt sense of resentment. I don’t mind the lack of explanation, in fact I applaud it, but there is a fine line between brevity and clarity, and it just seems like there is too much of a tilt towards the former. Ultimately it plays off like much of the film: the intentions are good, but there’s just a little too much “nothing” going on. That’s never a problem to let the camera discover the story rather than force it down the audience’s throat, but when it is something as personal as this is, perhaps the audience deserve a little more than just being reminded that the main character is an alcoholic?

Again, I think my distance from the style (as of late) is kind of clouding my view of it. The ending is actually quite effective, although the film seems to climb towards the finish line. Farrel, who we spend 90% of the movie with, is completely absent from the last five minutes. It’s an awkward stretch for the movie, as we’re left with the family that we know little to nothing about and then Alonso expects the emotional climax to hit more than it really should. The impact Farrel had on his family should not be reduced to a memento (which lends the film its title) but instead have it manifest by observing the interruption of their daily rituals. It’s not a huge loss really as the film never really attempts to be bigger than itself. It’s a nice slice of rural Argentina, and I respect it as such, but from this film, I’m far from declaring Alonso as the cornerstone of the minimalism scene.

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