7:30 PM, 3rd November, 2017
Terence Davies’s latest film manages to deliver a story that departs slightly from both what people expect from his films, and how poetry fans traditionally think of Emily Dickinson. I have to confess right here that I am not an expert by any means on either subject, but (a) my experience of the movies I have seen of his (The House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea, Sunset Song) leads me to regard Davies as a creator of visually stunning but gloomy films, and (b) my research and limited exposure to the works of Dickinson informs me that she is generally regarded as a recluse and a mystery.
Neither preconception is supported in the opening half of A Quiet Passion, because Nixon and Davies present us with a humorous, sensitive and sharp Dickinson. As family pressures and the norms of society increase her isolation, the film still holds Dickinson and her decisions in reverence for sticking to what she believes.
As mentioned earlier, I am no expert on Dickinson, but this film made me believe that I have known her work somewhere. That may be true (maybe in a fleeting encounter during secondary schooling) but, even if it isn’t, the feeling is a testament to the delights of the script and the performance of Nixon.
9:45 PM, 3rd November, 2017
Whenever I’m asked what my ideal job would be, I always respond: a sinecure. Actually, that’s not true – I don’t always say this, not out loud. But our hero, Checco (played by Zalone, alter ego of Italian comic Luca Medici) does say so out loud – frequently and proudly.
He’s an Italian civil servant with little to do but stamp permits and accept little gifts, and it is legally impossible for him to be fired – provided he doesn’t resign, which the Italian government would dearly love him to do. When the offer of a juicy redundancy payment doesn’t work, they try sending him to work in the worst places they can think of, although this only makes him dig his claws in harder. For Checco, the work he’s willing to do in order to avoid having to do any work is far greater than the work he’s willing to do by simply working. Or not working, as the case may be. If you follow.
If you don’t follow, you’re in the position I was often in: some of the in-jokes are opaque to non-Italians. But the big jokes are all universal; or at least, resonant in Canberra. I still giggle at the sight gags showing how Checco starts a typical day.