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'Benediction' provides more evidence that Terence Davies is a capital-A Artist

Every time I watch a Terence Davies movie, I wonder how it is that I’m not always thinking about Terence Davies movies.

The British director has a style that’s truly unique, but also nearly impossible to describe with words. He’s a capital-A Artist, one of the few who could be mentioned when we talk about our greatest living filmmakers. What he does is tightly controlled, and often overwhelmingly beautiful. You know that where he places the camera and when he chooses to move it is done with ultimate intention and purpose. He uses music, and singing, in ways no one ever has, and his frequent use of cross dissolves as transitions can seem jarring until you settle in, and then it’s like you’re melting.

His newest is Benediction, about the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote about the horrors of World War I. This is Davies’ second straight film about a poet, after the Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion, and it makes perfect sense, given his literate and poetic approach to his own work. This one often intersperses footage of soldiers in the war underneath Sassoon’s own words, and the entire movie is so, so quiet, with only sparing use of music, that it often feels elegiac, a reminder of the deep wound the war left on Britain. Sassoon was also gay, and the punishing difficulty of being gay in a society that doesn’t allow for it is something Davies is often exploring. Much of the movie shows Sassoon’s tumultuous relationships, and we see so much pain and anger in him and those around him—though it’s easy to understand why when you remember nearly everyone they’d known had been killed, and, being gay, they had to live what one character calls “this shadow life.”

Terence Davies can take some adjustment if he’s entirely new to you, but I never leave his films feeling anything less than emotionally exhausted and artistically astonished. He eviscerates you so quietly that you don’t realize it’s happened until you see your guts sitting on the floor when the credits roll.

Benediction is available on VOD.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.