Terence Davies’ “The Long Day Closes” is a technically elaborate, dryly witty mood piece centered on a shy young daydreamer in mid-’50s working-class Liverpool. Pic will delight the British helmer’s sizable following, win over some doubters and see plenty of daylight at specialized wickets.
Pic builds on the basic elements of Davies’ 1988 Cannes Critics’ Award-winner , “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” but takes its emotional cue from that work’s gut-churning set piece: the rising crane shot outside a rain-drenched movie theater to the lush strains of “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” After a still-life main title to a Boccherini minuet, “Long Day” lets rip with the 20th Century Fox fanfare (plus CinemaScope extension) and segues into a free-form ride down the helmer’s memory lane of family, friends, Catholicism and cinema.
Central character is Bud (movingly limned by 13-year-old newcomer Leigh McCormack), a shy loner who’s given a hard time at school, idolizes his mom (Marjorie Yates) and elder sister (Ayse Owens), and finds escape from the grayness of ’50s Britain in movie theaters.
Story centers on his coming to terms with school life and the various forces shaping the community. But there’s little resolution in conventional terms: Davies simply builds a kaleidoscope out of memory fragments and shakes it every which way in a series of visual vignettes.
Davies’ self-confessed interest in “poetry of the commonplace” gets a thorough workout: neighbors chatting, young women dressing up for a Saturday night out, Mom serenading herself with w.k. ditties, family get-togethers in cramped rooms or on street doorsteps. At other times, Davies brakes his mobile camera, strikes a still-life tableau (Bud sitting on the stairs; a shot of a patterned carpet) and lets the lighting and busy soundtrack do the work.
As in “Distant Voices,” pic celebrates community spirit rather than individuals. Characters are barely introduced, there’s only one specific reference to period (1955 to ’56) and dialogue comes in brief, intermittent bursts. In its play with legit-like scene changes and heightened reality, pic often plays like a Brit take on Francis Coppola’s “One From the Heart.” And with its antsy camerawork and musical construction, pic even recalls the celebratory exercises of Magyar helmer Miklos Jancso, swapping open plains for the confined urban dreariness of northern England.
Pic’s major weakness is its stop-go tempo. Individual segs are stunningly mounted (an overhead, four-part lateral track to the strains of “Tammy”; Bud dreaming of a mighty galleon) but show a longer dramatic line, a reluctance to go with the flow. Davies is still a miniaturist working in a feature-length format.
Non-buffs could be flummoxed by the soundtrack, a knowing mix of popular melodies, snatches of movie dialogue (“The Magnificent Ambersons,””The Ladykillers,””Private’s Progress”) and MGM baubles. Refs to minutiae of postwar Brit life, as well as the kids’ thick Liverpudlian accents, also may puzzle North American audiences.
Strength of Davies’ vision is the crux, and it holds the line to the final, confident fadeout. Perfs by the no-name cast are all on the money, with Yates excellent as the loving, understanding mom and Tina Malone bringing welcome shafts of humor as a sharp-tongued neighbor.
Michael Coulter’s grainy, desaturated lensing (partly achieved by eliminating the last wash in printing) bathes the film in a warm, nostalgic glow. Christopher Hobbs’ re-creation of Davies’ remembered streets (built at the London studio of Sands Films, producers of “Little Dorrit” and “The Fool”) squeezes the most out of the slim T1.7 million ($ 3 million) budget. Monica Howe’s costumes have a natural, lived-in feel. Trim 83-minute running time is not a frame too long.