WHO is he?

British filmmaker and screenwriter who has written and directed seven feature films since the early eighties. His early films are all set in his home city of Liverpool, England — a place that is also the most important character in his whole body of work. His first full length feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), won him the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Davies grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in a strict, Catholic upbringing, which has had a deep influence on his cinema. Themes of blue-collar camaraderie, dogmatism of religion and omnipresence of cinema are prevalent throughout his slender filmography. In Davies’ films, the church, the classroom and the cinema hall are three nearly-interchangeable, profoundly-related spaces. They are at once suffocating in their tendency for authoritarianism and social manipulation and liberating in the spirit of community and learning they offer.

Style

Davies has rightly been called a classicist, but his cinema does not remind us of a cinematic classicism that we associate with filmmakers such as John Ford and Anthony Mann, with their classical approach to narrative and characterisation. Rather, it recalls the Renaissance artists whose ideals of beauty and whose methodical approach to image-making find an echo in Davies’ own. He has an affinity for symmetrical images — which Davies’ introspectively attributes to his Catholicism — earthy colour palettes, strong verticals, smaller aspect ratios and head-on compositions.

WHY is he of interest?

Despite the small size of his cinematic output, Davies has come to be recognised as one of the foremost filmmakers of current-day British cinema. The sincerity of feeling, the authenticity of expression, the lived-in rhythms of his narratives and, most importantly, the keen sense of time and place are traits not only rare in contemporary international cinema, but also essential antidotes to an increasingly un-rooted filmmaking climate.

WHERE to discover him?

A glacially paced coming-of-age story set in a working-class quarter of Liverpool during the 50s, The Long Day Closes (1992) is an elegant summation of all the thematic and stylistic preoccupations we have come to associate with the director. Davies’ best film is an intensely autobiographical, remarkably poetic work that works elliptically, with its sequences segueing into each other not on dramatic but emotional logic, and makes edifying use of music that forms the soul of the work.

srikanth srinivasan

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