At first glance, Liverpool appears to be a languorous, landscape-heavy character study. Director-cowriter Lisandro Alonso keeps us mostly with Farrel (Fernndez), a sailor who comes ashore at the Argentine port of Ushuaia to visit the mother and father he left behind several decades before. The journey to his snowbound hometown is slow and taxing, punctuated by a night or two spent in drunken stupors. And when he arrives, he discovers a new person, Anala (Irrazabal), has more or less taken over his role in the family.
This seemingly simple A-to-B journey is complicated by Alonso and cinematographer Lucio Bonelli’s choice to photograph Farrel as if he were a peripheral part of a one-point-perspective drawing. Time and again, our eyes are drawn away from him to an item or element—usually in the center of the frame—that is somehow echoed in a later composition: a pornographic calendar with a pinup image of Christ; a multicolored pile of shipboard storage containers with a restaurant’s autumnal wallpaper. These objects have any number of unique symbolic attributes, but their meanings become increasingly and intriguingly malleable through Alonso’s patient, long-take purview.
Nothing concrete is assured, not even Farrel’s continued presence in what is ostensibly his own story. Liverpool’s revelatory final shot—in which an object akin to Citizen Kane’s Rosebud is presented for our contemplation—adds one last mysterious layer. Like everything else in this enigmatic masterpiece, the image resonates with myriad metaphorical possibilities. Yet the more we look, the harder its meanings are to pin down.—Keith Uhlich
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