May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 1, 2009
Reviews that object to the minimalism of Alonso’s Liverpool usually proceed along the lines of: too slight, too similar to his earlier work, or just simply, yawn. But I am not sure such responses noticed the remarkable contrasts and transitions that give the otherwise spare film its shape and momentum. Even just in the first few minutes we transition from the mechanical din of a large cargo ship heading to port to the relative quiet of a tiny bulkhead bunk in which the mere jangle of a keychain creates an audible ripple in the soundtrack. (This little steel-plated jangle is repeated later with stunning effect.)
And scattered throughout this matter of fact look at the interior of a freighter are smaller contrasts. Farrel napping in an extremely noisy part of the ship. Farrel alone in his bunk rather than in the common areas with others. Small electrical boxes and blinking panels against the shipping containers above decks. A bold credit sequence. This is all pretty loud, busy cinema for Alonso.
Then, as the ship hits its Argentine port, Farrel moves from the claustrophobic warrens of the ship to the chilly open spaces of rural Tierra del Fuego. After the requisite first night at port, he begins to hitchhike his way towards a village in the mountainous interior – plenty of space here for even more contrasts. A busy bar gives way to a ramshackle, yet quiet place to sleep it off. Night and day. Snow and sky. The farther Farrel makes it into the mountains, the less action each frame has to hang on to. The compositions become even more austere, controlled, and filled with the airy tension that seems to be drawing Farrel up to this small village.
In this quiet village we find a family he has abandoned, a dying mother, a small saw mill community that doesn’t even try to hide their disdain for him. And then in the middle of this unexpected narrative thicket is his developmentally disabled daughter. Somewhere in there, the film moves past Farrel into the more general sense of devastation left in the wake of his attempt to hide behind booze and distance. The minimalism born out of his self-imposed isolation begins to take on contours of the alcoholic desire for oblivion, of the failure’s compulsion to pare down and simplify as a material attempt to forget. Perhaps this is all reproduced in the unadorned spaces Alonso permits him, a visual purgatory.
In the film’s only grand gesture, Farrel hands his abandoned daughter the garish keychain bought on the way through Liverpool that he toyed with back in the tiny cabin on the freighter. Its reappearance is startling. She looks at it, a bit puzzled, and he walks away. She can’t read it, or possibly understand where it comes from. I still wonder if he is thinking about her in that scene towards the beginning, and then tosses the keychain in his bag in case he decides to go through with his little family reunion. Maybe it allows him to participate in the act of handing her something, a token gesture, without actually leaving anything of himself behind. I am not sure how to interpret this harrowing little gift otherwise. But one hardly leaves the film feeling as if whatever gesture it is that Alonso has offered us is as slight or obscure.