Distant Voices, Still Lives

Distant Voices, Still Lives ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As profound a portrait of a dysfunctional family trauma bonded together as I've seen recently, Terrence Davies made a film that got me to cry on more than one occasion. Distant Voices, Still Lives is sublime, feeling almost in places like a British answer to Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1974), a kaleidoscopic portrait of social, political, and familial history told in a highly poetic, pictorial way. William Driver's editing and cinematography work perfectly at capturing an otherworldly aesthetic, almost dreamlike in how time seemingly starts and stops to hone in one of the most minute or violent encounters. Like Davies' other movies, it is about the trauma of WWII on the generation who grew up or lived in its shadow, evocatively capturing narrowly evading bombs, hiding in tunnels, and singing songs to keep spirits up. The utilization of songs is of especial note because it makes up a slight majority of the spoken word in the film. Throughout the film, singing is a cathartic act of remembrance of times gone or of comfort in the face of hardships. The working class, of which every character exists within, sing pop songs to the point of becoming of communal significance, as it becomes a part of their ritual for release and entertainment. It's how they relate to each other and find solidarity amongst their own. Interestingly, Derek Jarman would turn in War Requiem a year later, a film that similarly uses dreamlike aesthetics and music to evoke the trauma of WWI, albeit in a far more abstract and experimentally formal way. The two films create a conversation about the British psyche in response to world wars that is deeply profound, and both feel immensely superior to Pink Floyd's The Wall (Alan Parker, 1983). A beautiful, lovely film that mixes intense sequences of familial harmony with patriarchal violence to create a dynamic, living portrait of a family.

Also, every actor is remarkable (Angela Walsh crying got me, man), but Pete Postlethwaite especially leaves a haunting, terrifying impression. It's almost unbelievable how good he is at this role, a frighteningly human abuser who you never knew when he would blow up or act sweet. You see one scene with him, and you understand why the film is structured as characters coping with the trauma they got from him—an absolute triumph of a performance.

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