I reviewed Alonso’s Los Muertos earlier this month. Liverpool is my third Alonso film, and I have the feeling that his filmmaking has slightly changed since he made his first feature film. Liverpool is a slow film, but it has, especially for my interests, some quite interesting differences to, say, La Libertad.
In particular the beginning, which shows Farrel, a merchant sailor, on a cargo ship, going about his day-to-day activities. The film frames are extremely tight. There is not left of the emptiness Alonso highlighted in his “landscape” slow films. The tightness of the frames has an impact on the reading time of the frame. There is so much to see, a lot of small details, that time flies past and it doesn’t feel slow at all. I wondered whether Alonso had changed his style completely, but he hasn’t really.
A different set-up, with a tighter framing, makes a huge difference. In general, this isn’t a film which shows the protagonist as being connected to his natural surroundings. Many scenes are set indoors. It’s often dark and cramped. There appears to be little (natural) freedom for Farrel. In fact, Farrel isn’t free at all. For the first time in years, he’s back in his home town. He’s known there for leaving everything and everyone behind, especially his mother and, I believe, his daughter (there’s no explicit confirmation for this in the film). He wanted to see whether his mother was still alive. She is, but Farrel acts as though he feels a burden on his shoulder and leaves quickly.
What I also took as an interesting novelty in this film is the theme of acoustic stress, which is evoked several times. Acoustic stress for the viewer. It reminds me of Tarr’s work, especially Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). In Liverpool the acoustic stress is caused, for instance, by the noise of machines on the cargo ship. These noises might be normal, but in the context of Slow Cinema they function as stress as slow films tend to play on silence, or at least quietness. It is a bit like an indirect message: nature is quiet, technology causes all the noise we have to put up with today.
I don’t think, Liverpool is Alonso’s best film. My feeling tells me that there’s something missing. Maybe it is the peaceful nature shots, the silence, which I have grown so accustomed to in the last couple of months. there you go, I’m spoiled.