If you know the films of Lisandro Alonso, the Argentine equivalent of Bela Tarr, you are almost certainly a dedicated connoisseur of art cinema, and you will likely be enthralled by Liverpool, a gorgeously shot and meticulously composed meditation on how humans choose to distract themselves from the perplexities of life with the banalities of living. But if you are in the vast majority of people who are unfamiliar with Alonso, and if you have never been titillated by the possibility of combining observational cinema with storyboards, then there is little to recommend in this film, outside of its intense visual splendor. Liverpool follows a semi-pathetic protagonist named Farrel, embodied by actor Juan Fernandez, as he takes shore leave from a ship where he has presumably been working for a long time, and searches for his mother, not knowing if she is alive or dead.
The Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz has chastised Hollywood cinema for its addiction to conflict in terms of plot, and though it is somewhat fallacious to conflate filmmakers based on their home continent, it would seem that Alonso concurs with that theory. During his endeavor, Farrel has no meaningful encounters and he overcomes no obstacles. He chain smokes, eats a few sparse meals, hitches a ride on a truck, and repeatedly sucks from a concealed bottle of liquor. The climactic meeting with his elderly, bedridden mother is abbreviated and confused, as the combination of her senility, his reticence, and the overlapping rhythms of their speech prevents any meaningful dialogue. It can easily be argued that a compelling narrative is not essential to creating outstanding fictional cinema, and, in fact, may often be a hindrance to an introspective examination of character. But Alonso's film lacks both narrative and character, relying entirely on aesthetics to generate insight and emotion in the viewer. Farrel's trek through this deteriorating landscape is so utterly devoid of drama and tension that the audience must eventually attempt to glean meaning from the wreck and rubbish of the landscape itself.
Amazingly, the film almost succeeds regardless. As Alonso and his cinematographer, Lucio Bonelli, let the camera meander across the scattered clutter and flotsam of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, which lies literally at the bottom of the occupied world, the peeling paint, rust stains, and dirt-filled crevices evoke the entropy of human subsistence, such that the inevitability of the inorganic debris gives it an air of natural wonder. As the shine beneath the grime gradually emerges, so does the driving metaphor of the film, as the empty actions and banal banter of the characters are revealed as the behavioral equivalent of detritus, which may be transformed into treasure in a vacuous existence. Beauty is not only available in every aspect of life, it is prevalent, because such is the ambition of the seeker. There is ample beauty to be found in Liverpool, but it comes at the cost of boredom.
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- Released: 2008
- Review: If you know the films of Lisandro Alonso, the Argentine equivalent of Bela Tarr, you are almost certainly a dedicated connoisseur of art cinema, and you will likely be enthralled by Liverpool, a gorgeously shot and meticulously composed meditation on how h… (more)