Directed by Lisandro Alonso
Liverpool opens with two shipmates engrossed in a video game soccer match and ends with a girl turning over in her hands a keychain that was given to her as a half-hearted gift. This is what passes for human connection in Argentine director Lisandro Alonso’s film, which also draws its title from the port-city origin of that cheap souvenir. Unfolding against forlorn shipyards and Patagonian winter landscapes and rendered through shots forbiddingly long in distance and duration, Liverpool is a formally compelling film, though its strategies are laid so bare it’s difficult to pay attention to much else.
Alonso’s film, which he co-wrote with Salvador Roselli, is almost more an observational record of bodies negotiating spaces, both cramped interiors and expansive snowscapes, than a narrative proper. What there is of a story, though, concerns the itinerant vodka-swilling seaman Farrel’s long-delayed return to the remote village where he was born. When asking permission for a few days’ leave, he tells his captain he wants to see if his mother is still there. This quick back-and-forth between Farrel (Juan Fernández) and his superior is about the most substantive conversation in the film, and even then it contains a significant degree of deception. Farrel hitches his way to his birthplace and finds his mother bedridden and suffering from dementia, but it is a girl named Analía (Giselle Irrazabal), presumably his daughter, whom he really seems to be checking in on.
Alonso employs a relatively simple formula for the majority of his takes: Farrel enters the frame; the camera follows him around a little; Farrel exits the frame and the camera lingers statically over the scene as if to search for the impression he left on it (most shots are from too great a distance to catch imprints left on seat cushions or even footprints in the snow, so generally rooms and landscapes, indifferent as in Alonso’s jungle-set Los Muertos, fail to register his presence). Alonso’s rigor is impressive, and a last-act point-of-view shift unexpected, but it is easier to chart this film’s rhythms than to fall into them. Some of last year’s festival dispatches described i<>Liverpool as moving, which is a little hard to fathom, but the consensus that Alonso remains a filmmaker to watch is hard to dispute.
September 2-8 at Anthology Film Archives