Distant Voices, Still Lives | Chicago Reader

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Rated PG-13 · 85 minutes · 2013

Drama
It's hard to say what Terence Davies's powerful masterpiece is about—growing up in a working-class family in Liverpool in the 40s and 50s—without making it sound familiar and lugubrious. In fact, this beautiful memoir, conceivably one of the greatest of all English films, is so startling and original that we may not have the vocabulary to do it justice. Organized achronologically, so that events are perceived more in terms of emotional continuity than of narrative progression, the film concentrates on family events like weddings and funerals and on songs sung at parties and the local pub. Davies's childhood, which was lorded over by a brutal and tyrannical father, was not an easy one, yet the delight shown and conveyed by the well-known songs makes the film cathartic and hopeful as well as sorrowful and tragic. (There are some wonderful laughs as well.) Much of the film emphasizes the bonds between the women in the family and their female friends, though there's nothing doctrinal or polemical about its vision, and the purity and intensity of its emotional thrust are such that all the characters are treated with passion and understanding. The sense of the periods depicted—ranging from the blitz to a mid-50s screening of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing at the Futurist Cinema—is both precise and luminous.

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