Dir. Lisandro Alonso
As many (myself included of course) are reflecting on the decade through retrospective best-of lists, one thing I’ve really noticed is the whole-hearted embrace of minimalism and social realism as the great cinematic trend of the 2000s. Verité-inspired film, something previously seen as film class fodder or stuffy art-house staple, slyly broke through in a major way, with films like City of God and Amores Perros becoming such cross-over hits that they began informing big Hollywood franchises such as the Bourne Trilogy to follow suit. Television has been no different, as many dramas have taken a gritty, filmic approach, blurring the line further between it and the cinematic medium.
But really, this is pretty well covered at this point, and shockingly enough, this minimalist style is far from receding with backlash, but rather becoming almost the de facto signature of the bridge between this decade and the next. Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool confidently but very subtly joins the New Argentine Cinema movement that has been making waves of late, as seen with previous entry, The Headless Woman.
To compare these two films is really an injustice to both, but tough not to make given their proximity in style and social commentary (not to mention gender roles). But where The Headless Woman is minimalism fused with ambiguity and at times surrealism, Liverpool is very much pure social realism, down to the mechanisms of watching a human being eat bite-by-bite or tying one’s shoe. In this regard, Liverpool shares much in common with Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, in that methodical approach to breaking down that cinematic wall and portraying humans in their most mundane, and therefore most authentic, form.
This is where speaking of a film like Liverpool becomes very difficult. On one hand, I admire the film’s sumptuous photography and persistence of long takes as a way of soaking in all that surrounds this lonely man on his travels. (Oh yeah, the film has characters and a vague semblance of plot… Hadn’t covered that one yet, but really, the idea’s what counts here.) However, on the other hand, the film does not cut a raw nerve like The Headless Woman does, and that comes from its own misguided ambiguity. Liverpool focuses on a man traveling to what we come to realize as a former home, and visiting his dying mother briefly, while leaving much to question about the context of this familial tension. The important idea here is the ever transient nature of existence, where one is always drifting, whether they are constantly moving or serenely standing idle in the familiar.
Liverpool is not unmoving; I must admit to becoming quite entranced with the film one its images really began to gel. But I am still, a week later, of a conflicting “opinion” on the film. Its images don’t haunt like The Headless Woman‘s, nor does the pathos of its characters ever linger on well after they have left the screen. What I can say is that director Lisandro Alonso certainly has shown a deft hand in the realm of minimalist film, one that shows a greater sense of formalism than I initially gave him credit for. In this regard, I am hesitant to lump Alonso into the Dardenne/Iñárritu/Reichardt school of filmmaking and am now perceiving him to be a sort of budding Alexsandr Sokurov. In this, I think Lisandro Alonso will be a major filmmaker to watch, but he has not yet made his masterpiece. He has however, given something that has yet to leave my mind.