starring Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Jones, Ben Daniels
written and directed by Terence Davies
by Angelo Muredda Queer melancholia and stifled antiwar resistance collide in Terence Davies's Benediction, a luxurious and achingly blue profile of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon. Ever the personal filmmaker no matter the period he's recreating nor the artist he's profiling, whether it should be Emily Dickinson (A Quiet Passion) or himself (Of Time and the City), Davies finds the perfect irascible surrogates in Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi as the younger and elder Sassoon, respectively. The one is vital but in danger of being flattened by military hypocrisy and transient love affairs with a rotating cast of men doomed to early deaths and loveless marriages, while the other has settled into his surly senescence, despite a late-in-life turn to Catholicism in search of some kind of permanence. ("You could get something unchanging from dressage without the guilt of Catholicism," sniffs his son.)
Davies weaves in and out of a series of stylized classical and pop-music-soundtracked montages and vignettes from Sassoon's life and work, from his fruitful mentorship of poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and angry invectives against the jingoism of the war machine, which turns young soldiers' bodies to mulch in the name of nation-building, to his uneasy brushes with society life, including a painful introduction to non-monogamy care of an affair with cad actor and musician Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine). Though it's overstuffed with such episodes, featuring a few too many cameos by historical personages who barely register, the film's exquisite sadness resonates. Davies's subtle command of tone, formal playfulness, and knack for what you might call mordant melodrama--for sourpusses who love to swoon--work overtime to make this a singular artist's biopic, a funny and heartsick reflection of its maker as much as its long-dead subject. PROGRAMME: SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
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