Posted by: kfugrip | March 1, 2008

Movie Review: Distant Voices, Still Lives

Upon reading a blurb about one of the major story elements of Distant Voices, Still Lives, written and directed by Terence Davies, I went about procuring a copy. It was difficult because the film is not available in the U.S. so I had to resort to using my friend the internet to get it for me. Thank you internet.

Distant Voices, Still Lives is a film about a working class family living in Liverpool during the 40’s and 50’s. The film is two separate films. The first, Distant Voices, is about the family and how they cope with the brutal and abusive patriarch Tommy (Pete Postlethwaite). The second part, Still Lives, is about the children, now grown up, marrying and how their lives intertwine with each other’s lives and with tragedy.

What I liked: The film is like a series of vignettes that builds a clear picture of each member of the family. Compositionally the film is very posed, like a family photo, and many of the images stay with you. The Mother (Freda Dowie) sitting on the window ledge washing windows while here children pray that she doesn’t fall. The images are imbued with emotion. This collection of images juxtaposed to create meaning and spark emotion is close to a pure cinema. The film washes over you, especially with the difficult-for-Americans-to-understand-accents but the images stick and the film doesn’t leave you for awhile (it hasn’t left me yet).

The distant voices of the title are the snippets of conversation heard through open windows and the songs sung by entire rooms of people. There is a lot of singing in this film, but it’s not a musical. These people’s lives include a lot of singing at gatherings. It’s quite beautiful, especially later in the film when the eldest daughter Eileen (Angela Walsh) sings a song that directly relates to how she feels about her friend’s abusive marriage. The music binds the characters and holds the film’s disparate parts together.

The performances were excellent, which is usually the case in a film that I like, and my favorite part of the film was the tonal shifting. The first part is weighed down with the father’s presence but even when it lightens up in the latter part the father is still felt like his faded photograph on the wall.

What I didn’t like: Though I liked the style of the film it was a bit difficult to follow from a plot standpoint. Realizing that the emotion was the point helped lessen my confusion. Also, my American ears found it difficult to translate a couple of times but the performances indicated what I was supposed to be seeing and feeling more than the dialogue.

5 stars




  1. Dude, is that Kobayashi in the first pic?

  2. Yes. He plays the father in this movie and it’s a great performance.

  3. I love Pete. First time I remember seeing him was in In The Name Of The Father. He dominated. An actor that has no business exuding subtlety and calm with a face like his, but he pulls it off marvelously. I need to see this film.

    Can you be more specific about your friend the internet?

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