Critics' Pick

Distant Voices, Still Lives (NR)

Drama 85
By Danny King
The working-class, mid-20th-century Liverpudlian characters who populate Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) sometimes glance in the direction of the camera, their self-conscious near-posing and the director's portrait-like framing evoking the flipping-through of an old photo album. This combination of intimacy and remove -- the startling emotional jolt of seeing a family in mourning stare toward you in silence, an image of the felled patriarch hanging on the wall behind them -- characterizes Davies' enthralling 30-year-old debut feature.

Davies' reminiscences, centered on one Catholic clan, unfold according to a peculiar emotional logic: The characters are more comfortable singing than speaking. ("Bye Bye Blackbird" diffuses a barroom argument.) Scenes aren't shaped with typical dramatic roundness, but rather pick up and cut off at surprise intervals. Even an encounter with stark interpersonal stakes -- a confrontation between army-age son Tony (Dean Williams) and abusive father Tommy (Pete Postlethwaite) -- is structured as a sort of de-escalation. Davies opens on an expression of mighty rage, Tony punching his fists through a window ("Fight me, you bastard!"), then transitions abruptly to a near-the-fireplace shot of Tony holding two beers in his bloodied hands, Tommy flatly but quietly refusing his boy's offer of a drink. Such disjunctive stops and starts recur across Davies' movie, as its look-back form -- all elegiacally drifting camera movements and belted-out bar songs -- endures as a grand cinematic anomaly.
Terence Davies Lorraine Ashbourne, Jean Boht, Carl Chase, Chris Darwin, Sally Davies, Frances Dell, Freda Dowie, Anne Dyson, Susan Flanagan, Marie Jelliman Terence Davies

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories