A Quiet Passion Screen 90 of 24 reviews

A Quiet Passion


A Quiet Passion Poster
  • Nixon’s performance is a self-conscious tour de force of buried fury. Dickinson’s essential attitude, as Nixon and Davies take pains to point out, is bitterness, and at the end of her life, as she lies on her deathbed aware of her obscurity and her sacrifice, she asks why the world has become so ugly. The only cinematic comparison is another masterpiece, Naruse’s A Wanderer’s Notebook, about the life and struggle of Fumiko Hayashi, a Japanese writer who, like Dickinson, died in middle-age.

  • Here is a woman who feels the power and pain of language. Once we understand that, we’re better prepared to understand the inward turn of her verse. Unlike her dueling conversations, her poems are skewed and slanted, with unexpected jumps at every line, or dash... The film’s voice-over recitations make the verse even more elusive than on the page, but I don’t know how else Davies could have handled them.

  • It is to Davies' enormous credit, and especially to Cynthia Nixon's (in one of the best performances I've ever seen in a biopic), that A Quiet Passion does not offer up a caricature of the semi-reclusive, depressive 'Belle of Amherst'... When frustrations, unfulfilled desires, and physical illness begin to wear her down, in the film's later stretches, Emily's deterioration feels as powerfully tragic as Lily Bart's fall from social grace in Davies' adaptation of The House of Mirth.

  • The agony of the effort stamped onto Nixon’s face, and the film’s drama is wrapped up in her internal tug-of-war.. For Davies, Dickinson appears as a figure no less valorous than the battlefield dead, and in many ways words outstrip deeds—while the Gettysburg Address, referred to in passing, insists that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” history has proven this dead wrong.

  • The ordinary objects Davies and DP Florian Hoffmeister film inside the house assume an ethereal presence. In fact, the quotidian has enormous power in Dickinson's writing; it reflects her extreme highs and lows. Her strong personal investment in her own self did not prevent her from taking to heart such controversial ethical issues of the time as slavery and women’s rights.

  • The effect is at first somewhat off-putting; you feel almost as if Mr. Davies were keeping you at an intellectual and emotional remove, like the characters themselves. Yet this distance fades as the characters, with their stiff physical formality and syntactically foreign sentences, grow familiar. In other words, he brings you into Dickinson’s world — interior, exterior — rather than tailoring it to your 21st-century expectations.

  • What’s bold about the film is how unexpectedly, hilariously funny it is, as the independent-minded Dickinson — played with steely wit and piercing vulnerability by Cynthia Nixon — brilliantly deflects her family’s every attempt to tame her into social, spiritual and intellectual submission. Before it tilts inevitably toward tragedy, the film is a riotous assemblage of drawing-room banter to rival Whit Stillman’s recent Jane Austen comedy “Love & Friendship.”

  • A shimmering, clear-eyed elegy from one poet to another, it’s every bit as personal as the director’s autobiographical features—Davies contemplates his heroine’s intransigence, her struggle with morality and mortality, and, like Flaubert, whispers “c’est moi.” It’s nothing less than his Gertrud.

  • One great artist engages with another in A Quiet Passion, a bold and brilliant study of the American poet Emily Dickinson by British writer-director Terence Davies. The film is as strange, in its way, as its lead character's inimitable way with words.

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    Film Comment: Michael Koresky
    September 03, 2016 | September/October 2016 Issue (p. 8)

    Far from a conventional biopic, Davies's marvelous film about the life and death of Emily Dickinson takes great care never to overplay the brilliance of its subject, taking her genius as a given. Her poems, unpublished during her lifetime, occasionally float across the soundtrack, premonitions of a posthumous career, recited by Nixon with an internalized wisdom.

  • Among many other things the Davies is an extremely moving and intelligent look at religion—how discussions about grace, destiny, damnation, and the hereafter can be part of a culture’s daily intellectual life, as it seemingly was in the film’s setting, 19th-century Amherst, Massachusetts, and as one rarely sees these days in cinema.

  • What's surprising, even astonishing, about "A Quiet Passion" is that, first of all, it's funny--not clever or wry but uproarious, outrageous, hysterical. In depicting Dickinson's life, Davies turns the story into a laceratingly epigrammatic comical satire on New England's narrow mores—until the movie turns into an ink-black physical and moral and spiritual tragedy of thwarted love, thwarted renown, and illness and death confronted brutally, cushioned by no religious convictions.

  • Things get claustrophobically bleak in the signature Davies manner, but subtly and movingly so – here’s a director who can make your heart stop just by holding at length on a shot of a bouquet of flowers. Davies habitually films as if his soul depended on it – here as much as ever.

  • Terence Davies, as always mining the past for its reverberating, ailing souls and tragic social repression, finds in Emily Dickinson a subject for rigorous, almost austere inquiry. Conversations on the nature of religious dogma, God's touch and distance, marriage, family, artistic creation and more flush A Quiet Passion with a forceful, spiritual and sparring dialog akin films by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

  • From the opening scene, in which a stern, shrew-faced schoolmistress addresses her matriculating pupils on the importance of faith and the perils of nonconformity, it’s clear we’re in safe hands. The bold, frequently frontal, tableaux-like compositions; the perfectly chosen faces; the carefully nuanced performances; and the occasional but characteristically elegant camera-movements -– all add up to a subtle form of stylisation that is not quite naturalistic but always persuasive and plausible.

  • Davies’s framing is exquisite throughout, but there is one long shot of Emily in bed as the sun sets that will likely remain the most beautiful I’ll see at this year’s Berlinale.

  • It’s to Davies’s and Nixon’s credit that the sorrow of Dickinson’s life is never doused by cheap, present-tense vindication. Dickinson’s “ruthless” integrity, her struggle with matters of the soul, and her “embittered” nature—all are contemplated with a moving, tragic clarity. As the script observes, clarity is not at all the same as obviousness. Davies certainly knows the difference.

  • Trying to fathom the poet's psyche, he uses her verses to comment on things (such as unrequited romantic love) that, he imagines, shaped her. This works well enough, but some stretches of dialogue, particularly those between the adult Emily (Cynthia Nixon) and a headstrong bluestocking (Catherine Bailey), are so laced with bon mots that they tighten like a corset.

  • If there’s ingenuity to it, it’s the way it simultaneously conveys the feeling of a time when people could be scandalized by a reference or enraptured by a sermon and the fact that life was dull and often cruel. But... it's hampered by being too long and repetitive. As in the sometimes impenetrable Sunset Song, Davies, the most interiorized of English filmmakers, shows his devotion through his fidelity to text, trying portray as much as he can of the poet’s sad but notoriously uneventful life.

  • I'm reserving the right to change my mind about Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion after I get a chance to see it again, because I’m already suspicious that there may be something deeper beneath the deliberately arch line readings and the stagy tenor than I’m willing to give it credit for at the moment. Upon this initial encounter, however, the most I’m willing to grant the film is that it is “of interest.”

  • Some have called Davies’ second (and better) film to be unveiled in the last 12 months the best Whit Stillman film of the year... while others have proclaimed it the best Dreyer film in 52. Both parties make valid points, but such comparisons might suggest this film to be a far more mannered (not to mention dry-er) affair than it actually is. In fact, this unlikely biopic detailing the chaste life of American poet Emily Dickinson is as fresh and queer as any new film to be released this year.

  • Cynthia Nixon spits out Davies’ dialogue as if it were written in the pit of her stomach... The third act of the film is a little weak and it is also where we start to feel its length – clearly not an issue of incompetence, just that the story needs its ending. The slow, painful death and embitterment of someone as remarkable as Dickinson, even on film, is an endurance. One or two not entirely convincing performances of Dickinson’s fits notwithstanding, A Quiet Passion is a fine, reverent film.

  • Davies' characters have often expressed themselves in a stylised way, so it's hard to say why the constant stream of epigrams is so irritating here - but maybe the artificiality used to be a working-class terseness providing protection against a hard life whereas here it just seems smug, esp. since half the epigrams seem to be about the foolishness of religion and sexism; it's a shame to see Davies' sympathy for the underdog calcifying into political correctness.

  • [Davies'] most mannered and least fulfilling work to date, “A Quiet Passion” boasts meticulous craft and ornate verbiage in abundance, but confines Cynthia Nixon’s melancholia-stricken performance as arguably America’s greatest poet in an emotional straitjacket of variously arch storytelling tones — of which a prolonged experiment with quippy, Whit Stillman-esque deadpan is the most unhappily surprising.

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