From Terence Davies comes his long-awaited fifth feature, and, at the age of sixty-five, it is not a moment too soon for the British auteur. Of Time And The City, subtitled ‘a love song and a eulogy’, is a lyrical paean to his beloved city of birth, Liverpool. The film, which opened to rave reviews at Cannes, is a composite portrait of the city and its inhabitants. With a voice-over by Davies running throughout, this is the director’s incredibly personal story of the city that still holds his heart.
Although confessedly a ‘love song’, the director’s vision of the city is not without bitterness. As modern-day images of church interiors appear, Davies recalls community obsession with religion and the mandatory attendance of Catholic sermons.
Yet such religious scenes are quickly juxtaposed with homo-erotic shots of men wrestling in a ring, while Davies recalls the furtive thrill that he felt in attending these events as a gay teenager. Similarly, archive footage of Hollywood icons becomes subjective, as Davies tells of his teenage obsession with the cinema, and his anguished viewing of Dirk Bogarde in “Victim”, the classic British film of a gay lawyer blackmailed as a result of his sexuality.
The film’s very nature suggests ‘looking back’, and it is indeed nostalgic. There is the unavoidable sense that ageing and (the loss of) memory are additional concerns in Of Time And The City. The plundering of archive footage suggests that he is desperate not to forget the city that he holds so dear, yet modern-day images of the elderly show that he recognises (and, perhaps, embraces) the fact that he, like the city, has changed irrevocably. As a long day closes over Liverpool, Davies’ soliloquised question “Is it sleep, or is it death?” rings in the ear as the credits roll.