Quick-Thoughts: Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

Tall woman + small man supremacy movie. 

Distant Voices doesn’t come off that much as say a visual representation of fondly flipping through a family photo album so much as it does as just an honest piece of memory interpreted by how those moments make us indecisively feel. Through careful craftsmanship, Terence Davies lets certain shots linger on beautifully in movement, usually through many moments of singing to foreground the echo fragments that provoke the imaginary rememberer the most, while timelines are neatly scrambled and intertwined by matching fades or seamless trucking / pedestaling. Something also graceful about his work in this first part is how he seems to expound nostalgia not as a glorification of childhoods, but rather one that reminisces it yet through understanding its complications. Clearly focused particularly on an abusive father and his sort of stubborn love’s affect on both his children and his wife, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of suggestive wrath set out towards these misfortunes and more so a sense of aimless pondering on the very reality of their immutable existence, which challenges the cliché of nostalgia.

Still Lives though, like Distant Voices, is fitting for its title. A bit more repetitive in its plot, this second portion of the film really hammers in the previously established misogynistic lifestyle of marriages through the eyes of Tony’s sisters. The final shot where we see him saddened though, presumably in the role of Davies himself, now just getting married while others have been living these sort of ordinary frozen lives for ironically quite some time, he seems set-back with not being able to sincerely live the normal of the time period’s patriarchal heterosexual relationships with at least a middling sense of peace for it like his siblings have. Instead, that still life is forever lost in his continuous confusion of expressing love, both in the psychological aspect of how he can interpret what his father’s meant, and in perhaps the undisclosed case of his sexuality.

Seeing the before and after in two distinct parts makes me wonder, as long as this really is autobiographical, if Davies was ever that happy with how he went about his life, maybe wishing he could go back not to experience the nostalgic joys of childhood and young adulthood again, but to try to be on a more intimate wavelength with his family. That is why we remember sometimes, isn’t it? 

Verdict: B

“Distant Voices, Still Lives” is now available to stream on Tubi.

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