Knit to This: The Long Day Closes
One of the things I loved most about Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast—which is now streaming on multiple platforms—is that it made me think of a handful of other movies that futz around in a similar neighborhood: the one where memory and childhood cross paths. Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun came to mind, as did John Boorman’s tremendous Hope and Glory, and even (however glancingly) Cinema Paradiso.
But the movie I thought of the most was Terence Davies’ swooning The Long Day Closes from 1992 (streaming on The Criterion Channel). It really is the perfect DG-kind-of-movie: nothing happens! It’s got maybe thirty lines of actual dialogue, a handful of vintage pop songs (who’s ready for “Tammy”?) and many, many scraps of vintage film dialogue (it lifts things from movies as disparate as The Magnificent Ambersons and Meet Me in St Louis), all woven together to connect and contextualize an impressionistic series of mid-1950s childhood memories.
I’m being (I’m sure maddeningly) vague when it comes to what it’s really about (sex, religion, class, family … in other words, it’s about everything), but to give away any of it specifically would be to ruin it. I’ll leave you to open this box of chocolates on your own. It really is gorgeous—though if you’re looking for a linear plot of any kind, you’re probably better off staring at your sleeping cat in a cardboard box in your living room.
The film seems so, so slight while you’re watching it, and then during the final scene—which is nothing but four minutes of clouds rolling by as Pro Cantione Antiqua sings the title song—everything that came before suddenly feels absolutely, heartbreakingly enormous. You’ll never forget it.
Then go pony up the twenty bucks for Belfast. There’s less Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds in it—usually a bad sign—but it’s terrific too.