Active Ingredients: Evocations of memory and sensations; Music; Editing
Side Effects: Weightiness in tone; Preference against characterization
[The Long Day Closes is now available on a new Criterion Blu-ray.]
The Long Day Closes is like a memory so delicate, if you blow it away the whole film-spell would disappear on the wind. A wispy and expressive sketch of director Terence Davies’ childhood in 1950s Liverpool, the film seeks to evoke fragments and sensations of the past rather than to build a narrative world. Davies imbues the personal details of his youth—his withdrawn personality, the warmth of his family, the solace he finds in the cinema—with such poetry and sensitivity, however, that the film speaks more to the feeling of memory than the realities of any specific life.
The Long Day Closes, then, is as much about the play of light against shadow as it is post-war England, coming of age or cinephilia. It’s interested in the textures of clothing, the peculiar qualities of window panes, the sound of a mother’s voice, and these ineffable observations are brought to life by the film’s exquisite and tactic production design and Davies’ painterly eye. In particular, his visual palette revolves around the hues that surround a beautiful, inky blackness. Woven together through masterful editing and manipulation of sound and music, as well as a subtle dreamy artificiality, these elements begin to take shape and form the familiar contours of memory.
Memory, for Davies (as well as for a cinematic master of memory, Alain Resnais), isn’t so much a hazy mental state as a true physical space, a room you can inhabit and walk around in, with a particular density to the air, a particular echo of sound and an inescapable timelessness. Returning to this place of memory is a spiritual act, and Davies treats the privilege with reverence, lending the film a sombre and liturgical tone. Despite this feeling of weight (perhaps fitting when navigating a landscape of memories), The Long Day Closes feels tender, flushed with the melancholy joy with which age views youth.
It could be said that the only films that truly matter are formed from the memories of its maker’s past. If that’s the case, then The Long Day Closes deserves a place alongside Tarkovksy’s The Mirror and Malick’s The Tree of Life.