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Review: "Liverpool" (Alonso, Argentina)

Daniel Kasman

It is difficult for me to qualify what it is about Liverpool I find so overwhelming, one of the great films of our times.  Some time ago, Andy Rector, in reference to Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth, made a remark about how viewing that film must give some sense of what it was like—unimaginable as it may seem—for audience-goers to see Last Year in Marienbad for the first time.  Liverpool is like that for me—something I am deeply thankful to be able to see one, twice, more, in theaters—but also not; Lisandro Alonso’s film is not of the monumental quality those startling works entail, films with force as one of their primary attributes, force of cinema.  This Argentine film, by contrast, is not such a force as it is a weight and a presence.  Going back again, to reference other grand and accurate statements about recent masterpiece cinema, lines were written about José Luis Guerín’s In the City of Sylvia, about it harkening back and reinventing the moving image.  I see this in Liverpool too, I who know little about silent cinema, or someone like D.W. Griffith, or even who knows little about the floors and ceilings of John Ford movies; I feel something in Liverpool that is so special and so rare in cinema these days, something that aligns it not to those first risk-takers, but more accurately to those, like Guerín or Luc Moullet, who don’t need to take those forceful risks because they are refreshers, re-inventers, re-mixers, rememberers.

“Feel” is the operative word for Liverpool’s profound beauty, which is not a pictorial beauty, nor psychological or thematic.  A story, that of a sailor taking leave of his ship in a wintry Tierra del Fuego to visit the rural sawmill where what family he has remaining resides, proceeds as it follows Farrel (Juan Fernández) as one may expect a story suggesting the frustration, repression, and solitude of a traveler returning would proceed.  The fact of the journey is a simple one, and as such the film seems simple; but it is not the journey but the journey's reality which makes the film great.  I won’t sing about realism, but instead of the feel of the thing: tactility of spaces, the weight of clothing, the mechanism of a bag’s zipper, the land and the sea outside of windows, the grasp around a bottle’s neck, pushing stew onto a spoon with a piece of bread, heavy doors, musty light dulling blood reds and earthy browns.  Some of these are objects, but the objects only have weight within a space, and the spaces exist like Alonso is building a house: four walls and a roof.  You remember these spaces; people live in them, and by that I mean the characters.  These are lived, used spaces, and you feel it in every inch of the screen’s space.  Again, this is not about realism, about the verisimilitude of how people like this or people who live there or people who do that actually exist, which would be a foolhardy film story.  This is about that sense in silent movies that you are seeing a rich totality, a true three-dimensional moment, in every shot.  The world in a box, and people in that box, and how sad that is.  Liverpool is the glory of a box, of box cinema, and of the world.

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