Distant Voices, Still Lives

Distant Voices, Still Lives

What this film neatly does is both revel in and put the lie to nostalgia. Capturing the past through (musical) standards and brief memories, it drifts to and fro between moments of joy and camaraderie and moments of patriarchal dominance and domestic violence in such a way as to capture not just the moments but also the atmosphere of the past. It doesn't look back at the horrors and say that it wasn't all bad; it looks back at the joys and says that it wasn't all good, and yet, it lets both have as much standing as the other.

And then, the film segues seamlessly into the characters' present (which is still deep within our past) and shows the consequences of such a past, both the good and the bad. The pain remains alongside the fond memories, and the lives of these characters, conveyed to us in conversation and spare moments, are revealed to be as tinted with one as the other. Despite bearing a deeply romantic air, despite the fact that every scene is draped in music (indeed, the film could easily be classified as a musical if it isn't normally), the film captures the essence of reality.

The idea that the good old days weren't so good is not a revolutionary concept, but it's still impressive to see the idea addressed so directly. Instead of feeling like an expose, as a film simply showing the dark side of working class, war time Liverpool might, and instead of feeling like a "fuck you" as a more experimental approach might, this film feels like a reimagining of nostalgia. It does not dismiss the feeling; it simply acknowledges the depths of the past. It suggests that sentiment and catharsis can walk hand in hand, that you can feel nostalgic without lying to yourself. We can sing together now and feel good about the good times, and we can stand alone in a window overlooking a dark street and weep about the bad times all in the span of 100 minutes, and both are equally valid.

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