Liverpool- 12 April, 2012
I set about watching Liverpool with enthusiasm, thinking I was about to discover a gem of the Argentinean B-class film industry. Unknown actors, a storyline that didn’t give much away, the barren landscape of the south of Argentina… I usually enjoy this kind of arty film with implied messages, but what I found was Lisandro Alonso’s masterpiece of boredom.
The main character is Farrel (played by Juan Fernández), an alcoholic sailor whose cargo ship is about to arrive to Ushuaia, the capital city of Argentina’s southernmost province, Tierra del Fuego. Farrel asks his captain for permission to take a few days off to visit his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in years and who happens to live in a nearby village. He starts his journey through perfect wintery scenery to find out ‘whether she’s alive or not’.
The film lacks interaction, there are hardly any dialogues and most of them don’t provide any information about the protagonist’s motivations, thoughts or past life. The characters seem to be a reflection of the cold environment they live in, just a hard, bitter surface unable to communicate or show emotion. The most passionate outburst comes from a neighbour who lashes out at Farrel for leaving a few weeks before his daughter was born. And I believe this was only possible as Farrel was conveniently unconscious and therefore unable to reply.
Farrel finds the way back home to an unimpressed village community. He’s not welcomed. His bed-bound mother doesn’t recognise him and his estranged daughter, a teenager with some kind of mild behavioural/understanding disability, treats him like a stranger. Farrel’s journey to his long lost home had a hidden agenda: to give his daughter a novelty key ring. What might have been considered a loving, almost moving gesture in this otherwise frosty film is followed by Farrel’s sudden decision to leave. Unsurprisingly, there are no hugs, kisses or promises to visit again soon… Farrel seems untouched by the prospects of abandoning his family again and doesn’t even turn around to wave good-bye.
This slow-moving film is made up of long, full and medium shots. The lack of close-ups means that the director doesn’t only avoid giving the viewer information explicitly through dialogues or voice-overs, but also avoids the implicit communication of gestures and looks. This also means the audience struggles to connect with the story, a distance that, at least in my case, grew bigger as the story unfolded.
The film doesn’t provide any answers to the viewers’ questions: why did Farrel turn to drinking? Was it to forget a heartbreaking past? To cope with a decision he regrets? Why did he leave his village in the first place? What happened to his daughter’s mother? Does his family live off only the villagers’ charity? Or is there some promiscuous way his daughter gets money to get by?
I am probably missing something as the film won the best film category at Gijon’s Film Festival and many critics have described it as a modern masterpiece. For me, the film is nothing more than a succession of banal, inexpressive activities. An arty-farty film about loneliness and isolation.
Liverpool was recently released on Second Run DVD and is available to buy from Amazon and other UK retailers
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