Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***
Doing away with conventional exposition is a tricky business but Lisandro Alonso gets away with it fairly well in his 2008 film Liverpool, just now making its DVD debut via Kino Home Video. It's one thing to ignore exposition when you have a main character who is relatively open and sociable. When you have an extreme loner, as is the case with Alonso's "hero" Farrel (played by Juan Fernandez, in real life a snowplow operator), this makes connecting with the movie much more difficult. And yet I believe the director/co-writer (with Salvador Roselli) manages even this challenge better than might be expected.
We follow Farrel as he disembarks from the ship he works on and sets off for the hinter-lands to visit the mountain village of his mother (whom he does not even know is alive or dead), making pit-stops for food, sleep and topless entertainment along the way. The movie's visuals are quietly enticing. Farrel's lack of desire for -- or skill at -- communication becomes a kind of challenge to the viewer, one that you will either rise to or give up on. But stick with Liverpool (the title takes on meaning only in the last few moments), which becomes more engrossing as it goes, as Farrel's life unfurls quietly before you. In addition to his mother and an old man who knows him, Farrel comes upon someone else of surprising importance.
It's this new character who brings the movie its small poignancy, not to mention a whole lot of questions that broaden our view of Farrel, making his extreme loneliness and isolation even more upsetting. From where does this all come? We get only hints from the few bits of dialog -- the tiny town is not the most communicative location in the world -- but they do make us wonder: Is this the simple story of a young man who set off for life and adventure away from home or a story of deep, fatherless family dysfunction (incest, perhaps)?
Answers are not forthcoming, yet any way you slice it, Liverpool is a kind of horror story of a life so cramped and cut off that it might approach tragedy -- if we, or our hero, could come close to figuring it out.
That Alonso is a filmmaker who enjoys being different is clear from his very opening: the first frame features the "thank you" credits we usually find at a film's end. These are followed in reverse order by the other credits, so that when the film -- only 84 minutes long -- ends, it is truly and entirely over. The wonderful cinematography is by Lucio Bonelli, who also shot one of Argentina's top money-makers this year: Música en espera. All the technical credits, in fact, are above par. The real question is whether or not audiences will have the ability to sit, watch and listen carefully enough to take in what the filmmaker is offering.
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