Above: Farrel (Juan Fernandez) disembarks to visit his family in the mountains.
"Anywhere but here" is the common phrase, but Liverpool's variation seems to be "anywhere but anywhere." Lisandro Alonso's follow-up to Los Muertos is another mostly unspoken journey, but that film's flirtations with myth and regression—traveling from prison to jungle—makes Liverpool's revelation as a journey of banality all the more surprising.
A boat worker, Farrel (Juan Fernandez), spends his shore leave traveling from the port city to a rural community in the mountains build around an old saw mill. Ostensibly traveling to see his mother, Farrel takes his time and drinks enough alcohol along the way to suggest a significant confrontation is brewing. But the result couldn't be further from the suggestion. Alonso's single-shot observational style records only dry action—Farrel getting dressed for a night shift, packing his bags, waiting for a ride to the mountains, or pulling yet another swig from his seemingly bottomless bottle of vodka. The result is that the confrontation between Farrel, his mother, and the daughter he left in the logging camp has the same anti-dramatic weight as a shot of Farrel zipping up his handbag or eating a meal.
The cumulative impressiveness of the completely measured banality of Liverpool, avoiding both pictorialism and the pretentious weight in its simple, realist, but distanced camera set-ups, must be extended to Alonso's people (characters they are not in this non-drama) and to Liverpool's world. The reveal of the reason behind the film's title seems to make it clear—this is a deadened, unhappy life of routine, remorse, and work, wherever it is, whatever you do. An object that another film would use as a romantic starting point—a cherished souvenir from a mysterious world abroad—here becomes a kind of final punctuation: banal, so much so it might even be darkly humorous. This is what it is like in this world, and only the most resolute and dedicated cinema could express such a philosophy without succumbing to the very malady effecting its world. Alonso's brilliant, slow-burning simplicity creeps slowly but definitively, and its impact continues to entwine itself after its scenes of brutal disinterest and deeply repressed unhappiness routinely proceed past. It is a sign that Liverpool is not nearly as banal as it seems.