The Argentine director Lisandro Alonso's characters are wandering loners which he simply films in certain circumstances, having spent much time in preparation inspecting the places of filming and the people who live there. In Liverpool, the main character Farrel (Juan Fernández) is an alcoholic sailor whose cargo ship is about to arrive to Ushuaia, the capital city of Argentina's southernmost province Tierra del Fuego. Farrel asks for permission to take a few days off to visit his mother, whom he hasn't seen in years, and happens to live in a nearby village. He starts his journey through snowy winter to find out "whether or not she's alive."
Farrel's loneliness is part of his attitude; he does not communicate much with others, preferring to stay alone with a bottle of vodka. His silent walking dictates the rhythm of the narrative in a slow cinema approach that informs Alonso's cinematic stylization. While Alonso seems to have taken this pace to the extreme, he is not the slowest of the slow cinema directors—the Hungarian cineaste Béla Tarr's films are marked by an even more protracted time, yet the rhythmic correlation between sound and image pulsate, coupling with our comprehension of the audiovisual information presented by this mode of filmmaking.
Alonso's method is actually more simple, remaining on the surface of images. He depicts his journeys (La Libertad, 2001, Los Muertos, 2004, Fantasma, 2006) with very little information about the characters and their ambitions. In Liverpool, Farrel's relation to his sick mother, his father (Nieves Cabrera), and his daughter Analia (Giselle Irrazabal) follows the same, nearly emotionless pattern. Farrell remains fully in his silent soliloquy.
Lisandro's camera-based filming sets up different expectations than usual narratives, establishing a relationship between the character and the surrounding landscape. Stillness and momentary silences require us, as viewers, to be still—to observe, to watch, and to have the patience to wait for emerging solutions. This subdued atmosphere allows us to make observations that might otherwise go noticed. The film thus functions as a self-reflective, therapeutic journey in which the spectator becomes a visionary, a participant in these accounts. In the best circumstances, this cinematic strategy can produce an affective mode of spectatorship, a deeper understanding of what is represented onscreen.
Liverpool's endless journey symbolizes the act of homecoming—a return to familiar places is configured by representations of time and space, delving into a collective memory of happenings. The characters are in search of themselves; the film's places express this duality. Confirming aspirations which seem to consist mostly of lost desires, the search for meaningful experiences evokes expectations that are not fulfilled during the course of the film.
Alonso's audiovisual design and narrative construction echo his authorial control over the boundaries of human fate and its static depiction. The film's introductory scenes establish the narrative premise as one of journey-like wandering. Alonso has described his filmmaking method as a way to "observe and absorb the character's attitudes and behavior." In the film's final scene, we see a simple souvenir in Analia's hands—Liverpool is one of the places Farrell might have passed through during his journeys.
Liverpool appears as a collection of moments—of views and perspectives—that comprise certain encounters, and in which dialogue is sparse to non-existent. This mixing of personal levels connects with the director's audiovisual simplification of labyrinths behind the narrative. Another formal device is the activation of characters that 'start' the image anew, catalyzing changes and development inside the frame. The painterly effects of the performer, the landscape, and Lucio Bonelli's camerawork create a vision of slowed filmic existence—a certain rhythm accentuated by small pauses, moments of still-life, and slight movements. Alonso's shifts of frame and shot composition are pictorially oriented, following the characters' ambiguous presence, functioning on the level of observational manufacture. Perceptual and thematic presentation are inherited in the approach of personal significance.
Alonso's frequent use of long shots denies our need to look closer in order to understand what we see, and the film's editing similarly refuses to provide clues essential to interpreting its vignettes. Rather, the spectator must rely on his/her senses to interpret the narrative. Alonso's camera movements in Liverpoolposit observation as narrative strategy, pointing to the filmmaker's creative proclivity of exploring hidden or implicit cultural parameters behind the narrative, correlating the performers' presence with their milieu. The horizon of expectation becomes immanent. In this regard, while Alonso's configurations of time and space represent different dimensions of the depicted cinematic world, they cannot be separated.