Being There

Ed Halter on Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool

Lisandro Alonso, Liverpool, 2008, stills from a color film, 84 minutes. Farrel (Juan Fernández).

LIKE HIS SECOND FEATURE, LOS MUERTOS (2004), Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool (2008) is a work of rugged solitude, executed with a careful simplicity of unhurried, unbroken, and generously distanced shots. Both study homecomings: While Los Muertos followed its newly ex-con protagonist down a lazy river wending from prison to his village, Liverpool tracks Farrel (Juan Fernández), a cargo-ship worker who goes ashore at Tierra Del Fuego to reunite with his ill mother, who lingers bedridden in a remote logging camp. By placing lone male protagonists against depopulated expanses of wilderness and industry, both these films could be seen as peripatetic masculine counterpoints to the feminine interiors of Chantal Akerman’s similarly languorous Jeanne Dielman (1975), depicting individuals evidently defined by their exterior and exploratory movement through vast territory, nevertheless drawn back inexorably toward their natal sites, compelled by some magnetic and melancholic tropism.

Liverpool’s narrative is barely there, spiderweb thin, plotted from point A to point B, then granted a ghostly tangent through an elongated coda. Alonso uses cinema less as a medium for storytelling and more as a means to capture and replay specific psychogeographies. He employs nonprofessional actors culled from the region and has them portray their characters through movements and actions with a minimum of dialogue. The rural portions of the film show a well-worn system of human tools and structures embedded intimately within the natural world; the color scheme throughout its subarctic land is snowy whites and wooden browns, broken only by bits of artificial blood red: the collar on the jacket of Farrel’s sister or the battered paint on a commissary table. Taken as a carefully relayed sensorium, a set of found gestalts, Alonso’s cinema embodies a philosophy whose basic postulate subtends the Bazinian tradition that itself has wandered the decades through Bresson and Akerman, Benning and Tarr: that our selves are to be found not in us, but around us.

Liverpool has its New York theatrical premiere at Anthology Film Archives September 2–8. For more details, click here.