A Quiet Passion (2016)

A Quiet Passion
Director: Terence Davies
Writer: Terence Davies
Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Duncan DuffCatherine Bailey, Jodhi May, Emma Bell, Rose Williams, Benjamin Wainwright, Keith Carradine
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 21.10.2016

Emily Dickinson (Emma Bell, Cynthia Nixon) grows up and lives rather remotely but in close contact with her sister Vinnie (Rose Williams, Jennifer Ehle) and her brother Austin (Benjamin Wainwright, Duncan Duff). She devotes her life to writing poetry, exploring her inner life instead of the world, always hoping for recognition of her art.

A Quiet passion is a beautifully filmed and well-acted movie that moves at a slow pace. I am sure it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and I do feel conflicted about it myself, but it is worth to give it a try.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry doesn’t really speak to me, and I have to admit that this film didn’t really bring me any closer to enjoying her poetry. But I did like the glimpse into her life that Davies manages to package artfully. Or rather, it’s his costume designer Catherine Marchand who does most of the beautiful packaging (and believe me, when I notice costumes in a film, you know that they are damn extraordinary).

What Davies does is take all speed out of the film, which feels like an accurate representation of Dickinson’s life. But while I enjoyed that at first, the longer the film went on, the more oppressive it became and I felt like I was smothered by the film. Paired with the fact that I had no clue about the time that passed in the film – all ageing is done in a single, stunning looking morphing scene and you never know whether 3 months have passed between events or 30 years – and the time management absolutely irritated me.

But other than that and the sometimes consciously artificial acting style that didn’t resonate that much with me, I really have no complaints about the film. I liked how Davies didn’t so much compresses Dickinson’s life to fit it into his film, but rather reduced it and the events around it even further (like the scene with the soldier in the Civil War).

But most of all I loved the scene between Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May) and their bonding in the middle of the night and, quiet simply, how vibrant Dickinson was as a person. You’d think that a withdrawn woman who really doesn’t have a social life and likes to write poetry would be kind of a bore, but the Dickinson we see here, perfectly portrayed by Nixon, is funny and witty (never more so than when she banters with her friend Vryling Buffam [Catherine Bailey] who is delightful even when her banter lacks any kind of sense). Ultimately that’s what keeps you with the film.

Summarizing: Interesting person, interesting film.

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