November 15, 2009
With 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.