Sunset Song 2016
I have just seen what might be the best film of the year, the gorgeous and heartbreaking new work by that poet of the cinema Terrace Davies. It is certainly the film of my summer. Set in the countryside and farm land of Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century and based on a beloved novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon a writer I’m not familiar with. The film is long and slow but visually it surprises and impresses with every frame and tableau like scene in telling the story of a young woman who is bright and lovely but terribly put upon by her awful father and the hard life of farm labor. Horrible fathers is practically a given in many of Davies films and here he is given a good kick by Peter Mullan who is without any redeeming qualities that I can see. His harshness to his wife and children is at times hard to take, especially when he beats his lovely hard working oldest son for the smallest infraction. The daughter and focal point of the story is Chris played beautifully by Agyness Deyn who is known as a big time high class fashion model, and lovely as she is here, you would never think of her walking down a runway, she’s so comfortable and at home walking through the pastures and milking the cows. Davies who I think of more as a filmmaker than a director because he makes his films like an artist making a work of art and this film while severe at times is full of breathtaking images of the natural world which fill the wide screen (you must see it in a theatre) and then pulls us into the cramped spaces of their pleasant but peasant home all tight tidy and nice. I should also mention the use of music, it plays important in all of his films, and Sunset Song is no exception, and is usually used as an addition to the movement we are watching whether it be an early morning walk the folks make to church or a food laden wedding that is full of hope and love. There is a lot of sadness here also, and because we know history we expect this sadness but there are also unexpected surprises it this sadness. Davies has a marvelous sense of place and time and an eye for minute detail and an amazing way with long tracking shots. In this film there is one that moves slowly across an abandoned battlefield that should leave you in awe and maybe tears. The film is also dense in dialogue and accents but happily there are subtitles, which are useful and not intrusive. I can’t think of another poet of film (the only other one that comes to mind is John Ford) who uses people in landscapes as well as he does whether the landscapes are urban or rural. This film is a masterpiece and I’m excited with the news that his latest film “ A Quiet Passion” that stars Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson will soon be with us. How great is that.