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Old 06-12-2022, 01:03 PM
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34.Benediction (Terence Davies); grade: A+

Terence Davies, one of the few living giants of cinema, daringly connects man's capacity for cruelty represented by World War I to gay men's cruelty to each other in the Siegfried Sassoon bio-pic Benediction. That makes this the most sophisticated bio-pic since Visconti's Ludwig and the most unsparing and morally insightful gay portraiture since Chereau's Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train--epochal achievements. Epitomizing Davies' formal genius (and frugality), he expresses Sassoon's horror at the devastations of World War I by integrating found footage of the War. Doing so, Davies movingly connects his own personal responses to the men in the footage with Sassoon's political and poetic protest of the war (the footage recall's Pauline Kael's line in Riefenstahl's pre-WWII Olympia: "these young men who were so soon to kill each other"). After the war, which took the life of Sassoon's unconsummated friend, the poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson), Sassoon joins England's gay elite and enjoys its hedononism--headed by Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine). Broken-hearted, Sassoon breaks hearts. (More to say on the bitter irony of Novello's betrayal of the fame afforded by his common touch and good looks.) Years (decades?) pass, but Davies ingeniously keeps his actors young until applying morphing special effects to visualize youthful beauty's fading and the spiritual-physical ramifications of hard-heartedness (a reunion of lovers dredges up old betrayals and new vindictiveness). By humanizing the generational conflict between Sassoon and his son (an agonizing scene of Sassoon's hissyfit over loud rock-'n-roll music), Davies demonstrates the lingering effects of World War I to achieve a wide-ranging critique of British culture and the legacy of the 20th Century. Sassoon's ineffective objection to World War I and his seduction in the world of fine young cannibals engenders a need for redemption. Sassoon expresses this need in his art, his heterosexual marriage and parentage, and his conversion to Catholicism. Davies expresses this in overwhelming imagery--tableaus come to life--and musical juxtapositions. He answers Sassoon's longings with ravishing rhapsodies (poetic meditations on trees as signs of permanence and natural beauty like Godard's Nouvelle Vague and on rainfalls over empty space charged with remembered bonhomie and overlapping imagery of synchronized swimming with his one true love). Finally, Davies achieves a spiritual epiphany when Sassoon discovers in his desire to redeem his life the necessity for humility. Davies juxtaposes the youthful pairing-off denied Sassoon and the physical ravages of war spared Sassoon in a montage unified by the poetry of a superior artist. Here, the appealing poise of Jack Lowden's Sassoon and the stony inflexibility of Peter Capaldi's older Sassoon finally crumble--a life's pose deconstructed compassionately. It's the best movie of 2022.
Ranking Terence Davies

Greatest Films of My Lifetime
1.The Long Day Closes (1993)
2.Distant Voices, Still Lives (1989)

Masterpieces
3.A Quiet Passion (2017)
4.Benediction (2022)

Great
5.The House of Mirth (2000)
6.The Neon Bible (1995)
7.Sunset Song (2016)
8.The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Near-Great
9.Of Time and the City (2009)
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