Sunset Song (2016; Terence Davies)
By Daniel Barnes
The rare English-language movie with non-superfluous subtitles, Sunset Song debuted over a year ago at Cannes. Meanwhile, the usually snail-paced Davies’ follow-up film A Quiet Passion already played last February in Berlin.
Icy and warmly nostalgic, sprawling but deeply intimate, Sunset Song adapts the 1932 Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel set in rural Scotland in the early twentieth century into a gorgeous but glacial melodrama. The film stars Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie, a smart young woman trapped George Bailey-like by her conservative small town, with even fewer options for fulfillment due to her gender.
There is an unspoken tension here between a longing to escape into the past and a need to escape from the repressiveness of that path into freedom. It’s a tension that seems to be at the heart of much of Davies’ work. As with his previous effort Deep Blue Sea, Davies adapts in his image.
Davies deliberately attempts to recapture the pace and rhythm of the classic films that shaped him, and while the aesthetics are undeniably impeccable, it’s all just a bit fussy and indulgent and, dare I say it, slow for my taste. Great performances by Deyn and by Peter Mullan as the belt-wielding patriarch help a lot. Some blood in the cheeks of this thing would have helped a lot more.