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November 15, 2009

Liverpool, 2008

liverpool.gifWith its rockabilly-infused title sequence coda that segues to medium shots of industrial interiors and, later in the film, a desolate winter landscape (not to mention a running motif of Farrel [Juan Fernández] taking occasional swigs from a vodka bottle that he has stashed in his duffel bag), Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool, on the surface,  suggests a more straight-laced variation of Aki Kaurismäki's proletariat films (in particular, Ariel) than Alonso's recurring theme of internalized journey. From the opening image of an obscured Farrel looking on in the shadows of a dimly lit recreational lounge as a pair of gamers compete in the foreground, Alonso establishes a sense of distance and peripherality surrounding the film's reticent, inscrutable protagonist. Having spent much of his working life adrift at sea, traveling around the globe as a merchant sailor aboard commercial freighters, Farrel decides to seize the opportunity one day to request leave during a scheduled docking in Usuhuaia on the southern tip of Argentina in order to visit his hometown and check on his ailing mother. Having reached the figurative end of the world, Farrel's journey intriguingly represents both a fugue and a homecoming.

This oppositional image is subsequently reinforced in his disorienting return to his native village, whether trying to navigate the now unfamiliar geography of the town, peeking into the window of his home to see a young woman, Analía (Giselle Irrazabal) he has never met, or spending the night camped out at a neighbor's barn unable to go home, only to be dragged inside his parents' house to an anticlimactic reunion with his father (Nieves Cabrera) who is perplexed by his return and seems eager to see him leave. (Note an earlier juxtaposition of Farrel riding alongside harvested timber in the back of a logging truck - a shot that recalls the image of the impoverished woodcutter hitching a ride in La Libertad - that illustrates their mutual displacement and uprooting.) Curiously, Alonso introduces an ambiguity in his father's muted reaction to his homecoming that may not be the result of strained family relations, but rather, financial motivation, implied by Analía's nagging demands for money that reinforce his role as breadwinner for the family. It is this implicit connection between alienation and economics that incisively reframes the pathology of Liverpool in its distilled, allusive closing image, diverging from the notion of human idiosyncrasy towards a globalist indictment of its garish tokens of materialism and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 15, 2009 | | Filed under 2009, Lisandro Alonso


What do you think of the recurring image of people gazing fixedly at something transpiring (nearly) off-screen or otherwise not visible to the viewer?
Initially I took it only as an expression of Farrel's innate disconnectedness (watching people watching television, playing games, etc.). But reading how you associate his economic status with his outsider persona, I wonder if, in the film, money represents a sort of uncrossable rift between the protagonist and engaging with the world around him.

Posted by: Chaiwalla on Nov 19, 2009 9:43 PM | Permalink

Good question. I saw the economic status as causing the alienation to an extent, in the way that industrialization represents a kind of mechanization/automation of human action (like in Modern Times or even La Libertad). His role in the family has been reduced to being the income generator, so he interacts with them in that way.

But you're right, when other people gaze at something out of frame for an extended time, it also seems to be a conditioning. On the one hand, I see that it fits with Alonso's aesthetic of reframing what is filmable (or film-worthy) in terms of creating a sense of real time. But there is also something intrinsically transactional about those moments, like Analía waiting for her dinner order or when Farrel waits for his meals (at the restaurant and later at the village cafe). He is, in a way, dehumanized because he doesn't know how to interact any other way except to get his most basic needs. So in that sense, it is an uncrossable rift because he can't even get to a place of comfortability with respect to securing his basic needs, much less tackle his human needs.

Posted by: acquarello on Nov 20, 2009 12:38 PM | Permalink

I particularly liked the concept of disconnecting Farrel from the movie itself.

What do you think about the title of the film? Do you think Alonso is trying to connect Liverpool with Industrial Revolution?

Posted by: Debanjan on Jan 19, 2010 10:18 AM | Permalink

Oh, definitely. I think Alonso also reinforces that in his job a merchant sailor versus, say, a military sailor if the idea was just to convey that he's alienated because he travels around a lot. His job is to shuttle goods, to keep the wheels of commerce moving.

Speaking of which, that reminds me too that in La Libertad, the shack that the woodcutter stays in had graffiti that said something along the lines of "the migrants" or "the nomads", so even back then he was equating economics with rootlessness and displacement.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 19, 2010 10:59 AM | Permalink

I should caution that there's spoilers down below (if that matters to you).

I just saw LA LIBERTAD for the first time recently and I was struck by how Alonso's approach to narrative differs so drastically from the three films I've seen (I haven't seen FANTASMA).

LA LIBERTAD has essentially no narrative in the classical sense.

LOS MUERTOS sets up the narrative expectation of quest in which the protagonist will reunite with his daughter, only to thwart those expectations.

And in LIVERPOOL, Farrel has a similar quest only it is thwarted in the film much earlier when he learns about his mother's death and then the film continues on and has a quite profound and tragic payoff with his gift to his daughter.

Posted by: sami on Jan 25, 2010 5:02 PM | Permalink

You're right about the subverted expectation in Alonso's films, I think even La Libertad is subverted in the sense that it's a quasi-documentary but doesn't have a postulate like a conventional documentary. I like that he's constantly shifting ideas about what constitutes film narrative.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 25, 2010 9:05 PM | Permalink

I also find that narrative shifting really fascinating. And I can't think of another contemporary filmmaker who messes with narrative in quite the same, radical way.

Jia's films play with narrative but I think there's a fundamental similarity in all his films, even 24 CITY. I think Weerasethakul is like this too.

I suppose David Lynch or Claire Denis mess with narrative but their experiments are metaphysical inquiries, and Alonso's are strictly materialist.

Posted by: sami on Jan 26, 2010 12:00 PM | Permalink

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