Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) A
“Distant Voices, Still Lives,” is arguably the jewel in the crown in Davies’s ouevre. Part nostalgia, part nightmare, part memoir, and satisfying on each of these levels, “Distant Voices, Still Lives” offers a bittersweet look back at his working class upbringing in post-WWII Liverpool.
The film’s title reflects, among other things, the narrative structure, which is divided into two parts, shot a year apart from each other. The dense, multi-layered narrative, written by Davies, provides a detailed portrait of a house ruled by a rigid tyrannical father (Peter Postlethwaite), who’s given to erratic burst of temper, ranging from love to brutality and abuse that’s both emotional and physical.
With a detached yet loving approach, Davies’ film avoids the cliched nostaligic and romantic view often shown in such autobiographical movies. Place this film next to John Boorman’s cute and nostalgic memoir about growing up during WWII in the 1987 “Hope and Glory” and you immediately see the differences.
This highly stylized, theatrical portrait of his family is nominally plotless, consisting of highly effective impressionistic set-pieces, presented out of order, that is in a non-linear mode.
Told in flahsbacks, the film begins and ends with family weddings, held several years apart as the grown children reflect on their father and his negtaive impact on their lives, both in the short and in the long run.
Though Davies’ look is harsh and often brutal, it’s imbued with humanism and doesn’t give the impression of a life defined by gloom and doom. The lives may be static, but they are certainly not dull or conventional.
The sensitively drawn, subtle observations form a compellingly coherent, visually vividly, emotionally powerful memoir. Though subjective and (deliberately) fragmented, Davies’ portrait bears resonance and universal meaning that speaks to viewers who grew up in different circumstances.
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