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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The fugitive nature of time

This is a Festival review of Sunset Song (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 November (Tweet added, 13 November)

This is a Festival review of Sunset Song (2015)

This is a review, resulting from a screening at Hyde Park Picture House (@HydeParkPH), Leeds, during Leeds International Film Festival (@leedsfilmfest, #LIFF29)

Peter Mullan has a conviction to his acting that is palpable, and his character dominates the family in which Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) grows up : because we are frightened of what he will say or do, we believe in her fear or hatred, and that of her brother Will, and we wonder at the life that their father’s wife Jean (??*) has with him. The narratorial voice both guides us to what Chris is to experience, and, at the same time, distances us from it, in prose that is crisp and sharply given, and which reminds of Neil M. Gunn in Highland River.

Do we have hopes for Chris, bright and studious - and adamantly not seeing herself as Chrissy ? Yes, of course we do, but we hear of the almost unacknowledged conflict in her heart between books and the pull of the land, and, in the same way, she affirms knowing that time is fleeting, but yet would deny it : no reason why she, a Latin scholar, should not wish to see things in ways that reflect the thought of the classical period.

Catch them as post-modern thinking wishes to do with its various media**, we hear several times acknowledged here that life will offer wonderful things that are just of the moment, and Chris, knowing that and that things fade, somehow hopes that they will not. Her stance of defiance is against familial and societal expectation, but we see how, when much else in life and nature answers to forces of changeability, she is not proof against them. Chris is left vulnerable, and it is through her story that we learn of the effects of history.

Some may find insufficiency in this film (or its source ?), but Terence Davies shows us what he wants us to see, without forcing us to look. For those with whom he is in tune, and who know that this is his way of working, Sunset Song (2015) opens up, and never feels like a novel or a script, but a fully felt piece of cinema. As sensitive as he has always been to the perspective and voice of women, Davies glosses over nothing that forms who Chris is and how she responds to her situation. At times, such as when learning that he is to be a father, Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) may seem as though he is going through the motions, but, in the most important of matters, he is true to their life together, and what it meant, and her disbelief at what she is asked to believe about him is vindicated.

In filmic terms, Davies has worked wonderfully with his director of photography Michael McDonough on making darkness visible in the many interior scenes. Although he does not aim to overwhelm or seduce us with his visuals, except that care is at the heart of them, he does not deprive us of shots that rest and restore the eye, and he employs an economy of means in his story-telling and in the representation of family brutalities. One hopes that his work commends itself to those who love A Scots Quair, and that he may be invited to adapt the other two novels by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.


* Not for the first time, IMDb (@IMDb) does not help here...

** Often enough the representations are inadequate, not least in the face of the glories of a landscape.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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