Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Quiet Passion

Belgium, Great Britain
Director: Terence Davies
Language: English126 min
Rating: K7
Distribution: NonStop Entertainment
Print source: NonStop Entertainment
Love & Anarchy. Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF).
Theme: Life in the Arts
First screened: 17.9.2016 at 18:30 Kino Sheryl

Andrew Pulver quoted in the HIFF catalog: "(I)n 2015 Terence Davies released Sunset Song, his expansive adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of Scottish hill-farm life; now, early in 2016, another film has emerged: a biopic of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, who died in 1886 after a lifetime of respectable frustration. On the face of it, the two couldn’t be more different: the former revels in its sweeping landscapes and full-blooded screaming matches, while the latter is a resolutely-controlled miniature, barely setting foot outside the Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts."

"For all that, A Quiet Passion sees Davies returning again to some familiar themes. His Dickinson – superbly played with a sort of restless passivity by Cynthia Nixon – is, like Sunset Song’s Chris Guthrie, a figure trapped by history and circumstance, desperate to find an outlet for the overwhelming emotions (…)."

"After a long period in the wilderness, A Quiet Passion is Davies’ third feature (…). We should be relieved that there’s no diminution of powers: rather, the opposite, in that Davies appears to be getting better every time."
- Andrew Pulver, The Guardian

AA: As different as Terence Davies's two new films seem, there are similarities. Both are period films. Both feature a female protagonist, and the story is about her struggle for a life of dignity. Both take place in an atmosphere of strict Protestant faith. Both are powerfully visual and image-driven.

Sunset Song is shot by Michael McDonough, based on splendid landscape cinematography belonging to the "landscape as soulscape" tradition. A Quiet Passion, a chamber play, is based on a totally opposite approach by Davies's trusted cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister: a spare, ascetic, intensive interior cinematography with an affinity with painters such as Vilhelm Hammershøi. As for cinema, aspects of Carl Th. Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman come to mind. And "die Konstitution der Innerlichkeit" discussed by Theodor W. Adorno in his first book, Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des Ästhetischen. For authentic interiors the film crew had access to the Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst in Massachusetts.

The transcendence of music is essential in the evolution of Emily Dickinson. In his Helsinki masterclass Terence Davies told us that his research had proved that "Come per me sereno" from Vincente Bellini's La sonnambula (which we hear in the opera house sequence of the film) belonged to Jenny Lind's legendary American tour in 1850-1852.

For me, A Quiet Passion is a film about a poet's search for a higher level, transcendence, the beyond. The first attempt is a religious one which fails because of the church's ossified and limited stance. The second pathway is art, music, whose grandeur wakes in Emily something that nothing can stop. Her love is impossible because her spirit is too great for ordinary life. But she finds a way to express that grandeur in poetry.

Cynthia Nixon may be best known as Miranda, one of the four protagonists in Sex and the City. But she is a versatile actress with a long career, and now she is fully convincing in the challenging role of Emily Dickinson. It is a story of a disappointment in life and triumph in art. Emily the woman is not always nice. Emily is like Baudelaire's albatross, clumsy at land although she flies magnificently in the air. In this role, not based on external beauty, Cynthia Nixon projects a great power of personality.

Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets in the history of literature. In translation in Finnish she is not as prominent as she would deserve, although there are great translations of her poems in Finnish, including ones by Helvi Juvonen, her Finnish soul sister.

"Time heals" is a proverb that Emily Dickinson would never accept. Her wounds never healed, but much was sublimated into great poetry. Much of which is heard in this distinguished film.


A Quiet Passion (credits from Wikipedia)
Directed by     Terence Davies
Produced by     Roy Boulter
Sol Papadopoulos
Written by     Terence Davies
Cinematography     Florian Hoffmeister
Edited by     Pia Di Ciaula
Production companies:
Hurricane Films
Gibson & MacLeod Indomitable Entertainment
WeatherVane Productions
Release dates:     2016
Country     United Kingdom
Language     English

Cast from Wikipedia:

    Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson
    Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia "Vinnie" Dickinson, Emily's sister
    Duncan Duff as Austin Dickinson, Emily's brother
    Joanna Bacon as Emily Norcross Dickinson, Emily's mother
    Keith Carradine as Edward Dickinson, Emily's father
    Jodhi May as Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Emily's sister-in-law
    Daan and Eve Cools as Edward Dickinson, son of Austin and Susan, Emily's nephew
    Yasmin Dewilde as Maggie Maher, Emily's maid
    Verona Verbakel as Margaret Kelley, Maggie's sister and Emily's maid
    Turlough Convery as Thomas Kelley, husband of Mary
    Annette Badland as Elizabeth Dickinson Currier, Emily's Aunt
    Noemie Schellens as Mabel Loomis Todd
    Marieke Bresseleers as Jenny Lind
    Catherine Bailey as Vryling Wilder Buffum, a friend of Vinnie's
    Emma Bell as Young Emily Dickinson
    Rose Williams as Young Vinnie Dickinson
    Benjamin Wainwright as Young Austin Dickinson
    Eric Loren as Reverend Charles Wadsworth
    Simone Milsdochter as Jane Locke Wadsworth, Charles' wife
    Stefan Menaul as Mr. Henry Emmons
    Trevor Cooper as Samuel Bowles
    Sara Vertongen as Mary Lyon, a friend of Emily's
    Barney Glover as Dancing Soldier
    Richard Wells as Doctor
    Miles Richardson as Pastor
    Maurice Cassiers as The Photographer

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