A Quiet Passion Screen 38 articles

A Quiet Passion


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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The grown Emily (Cynthia Nixon) is followed through her seemingly idyllic family life, in which the relentlessly sharp and funny language generates a shocking number of laughs. It can’t last, of course, but Davies’ film is startling in its empathetic regard for a thorny figure who’s her own worst enemy. (I certainly can’t recall the last film I saw which seems like a very vehement advertisement for celibacy.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • It proposes the outwardly unspectacular life of Emily Dickinson not as the story of a no-hope spinster but as an act of courage, a woman’s struggle to overmaster herself, to sacrifice her own life (and preserve her maidenhead) so that her work might live. The agony of the effort is stamped onto Nixon’s face, and the film’s drama is wrapped up in her internal tug-of-war, her effort to convince herself that it’s all worthwhile, for as she herself pronounces, “Rigor is no substitute for happiness.”

  • 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.

  • One option is to make her meek and introspective. Another is to make her conversation as diffuse, oblique, and staccato as her verse. Davies has boldly tried another tack. He has made her one of a trio of eloquent women who swap epigrams as swiftly as if they were in an opera or an Oscar Wilde play. Davies seems to be suggesting that worldly (and wordy) banter with her kindly sister Lavinia and racier friend Miss Buffam gave Emily a sense of the blunt force of language.

  • 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.

  • The best moments of the film are when Nixon reads Dickinson’s poetry – Davies having contrived a context. ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ is read joyfully to a baby, but usually the poems are narrations over quiet scenes. Either way, her inflections match the beats and meaning of the words, and we see how Dickinson fleetingly ascends from the confines of life into the divinity of poetry.

  • Instead of making Dickinson a martyr, Davies and actor Cynthia Nixon give us not the world-shy mouse of popular imagination but a woman who is sociable, who bobs downstairs like a kangaroo to make a new friend of the spirited Miss Buffam. This Dickinson is alive in her time: profoundly mindful of its politics of gender, religion and secession; responsive to its literature; awake to and disposed to discuss the fact of being overlooked as a writer of verses.

  • In his sympathetic and intelligent Dickinson biopic, A Quiet Passion, Terence Davies honors his subject by remaining true to this observation from the poet herself: "To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations." Lucidly portrayed by Cynthia Nixon, Dickinson in Davies's film, even in the writer's more anguished later decades, is ever alert and ablaze, sustained by family, friends, and her own feverish mind.

  • The film surveys both the vulnerability and temerity of Emily Dickinson without ever superficially elevating her to a divine status. The film's accomplishment, rather, is in fleshing out the stark context behind her ethereal words.

  • In the absence of earthly bliss, A Quiet Passion reaches for the painterly joys of the costume drama and the consoling comedy of the drawing room. A deeply saturated Belgium stands in for New England, and the woods and flowers surrounding the Homestead, the Dicksinsons’ family home, offer a vibrant palette that contrasts with the poet: toward the end of her life, Dickinson wears only white.

  • Davies comes to Dickinson as a fanboy, and more. A Quiet Passion is a low bow before an artist he has fashioned into a kind of mirror image of himself. Filmmaker and subject are a match made in heaven that, cohabiting in Davies' delirious head, gives histrionic a good name. Both have spun gold out of stifling habitats... that turned them inward, and gestated rich inner lives they turned into quiveringly sensitive experiments with form.

  • As the movie continues, and certain events that came to define America and its character touch the lives of the Dickinsons, and we hear more of Emily’s work in voiceover, the movie’s style becomes less constricted, more fluid, but still retains an unearthly quality. Just as Dickinson’s poetic mode of personal expression and ear for idiosyncratic metaphor anticipated modernism, so here does Davies’ cinematic style slip certain bonds and achieve an unquiet fluidity. The effect is remarkable.

  • Davies doesn’t break the rules of biopics (or, for that matter, period pictures) so much as he operates independently of them, neither bowing to the genre’s usual dramatic satisfactions nor really showing much awareness of them. It’s a film made in the image of Dickinson and her poetry, in other words: starkly original, but without much show of fuss.

  • There’s little more solemn and sanctimonious than the great-person biopic, but Terence Davies’s “A Quiet Passion,” about Emily Dickinson, breaks the mold. The new movie, which stars Cynthia Nixon, lets a radiant, riotous, insolent humor illuminate the self-imposed confines of Dickinson’s family circle and the boundaries of conventional thought and behavior that reinforced her sense of isolation.

  • When Davies imagines Austin reading the editorial aloud, he makes it an act of malice. But this dour image... also becomes a charge from which Davies has to defend himself... To show that his movie won’t blur under “a mist of tears,” he needs to give flavor, color, liveliness, and energy to the lonely, miserable situations he evokes. The burden of pulling off this tonal maneuver ultimately falls less on Davies than on Nixon, who quickly becomes the movie’s center of light, heat, and power.

  • Cynthia Nixon is an absolute marvel in Terence Davies’ must-see biopic—one of my favorites of the year—portraying Emily Dickinson. She colors the poet as the sharp-minded, sharp-tongued, difficult, loving, private, stubborn genius I imagine she really was.

  • I fear now that I’m making the film sound like a drag, but it’s exactly the opposite—it is funny, frequently effervescent, and walks a tonal tightrope that lets us sympathize deeply with Dickinson’s isolation even as we may blanch at the rigidity and orneriness it produces. Much of Davies’s success in this is due to Nixon, whose Emily is one of the great screen performances in recent years.

  • Davies’ script complements Dickinson’s poetry, which is either read in voiceover or cleverly integrated into a scene (she reads Poem 260, of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” fame, to her baby nephew upon meeting him for the first time), though it’s the witty banter, mostly invented by Davies with the writer’s letters as inspiration, that steals the show, revealing Dickinson as the furtive revolutionary she was.

  • The film is about a famous poet, but it's also about genius as singular and isolating, its main character burning so bright it sometimes aches to spend time in her company.

  • Davies builds on the contrast between the increasingly suffocating space of Dickinson’s bedroom, which once her illness worsened (she suffered from the kidney disease Bright’s) she rarely left, by engaging with the expansiveness of her inner life. A Quiet Passion captures, in its form and tone, the torrid nature of her yearning.

  • The film fits snugly among Davies's (indeed, quiet) masterpieces for the way it wrings the sublime from the strained confines of everyday life, refusing the luxury of easy liberation on either side of the screen. By the time Dickinson asks her sister, Vinni (Jennifer Ehle), “Why has the world become so ugly?,” this tender and heartbreaking film has taught us better than to expect an answer.

  • Davies’s film owes much to Nixon’s performance, and to Dickinson’s poetry, read quite beautifully by Nixon in recurring voiceover. For the glorious filmmaking, though, he can surely take credit. There are breathtaking shots and sequences throughout—working, as the movie wears on, in an increasingly confined setting, he uses cast shadows and intrusions of sunlight through windows to define the home that becomes Emily’s refuge and prison.

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    Film Comment: Imogen Sara Smith
    January 03, 2018 | January/February 2018 Issue (p. 44)

    The light in A Quiet Passion is as clean as snow, sifting through lace curtains; flickering fires give rooms the dark, warm varnish of oil paintings. But the film's language is even more luminous and richly colored than its images. Terence Davies's screenplay about the life of Emily Dickinson (the birdlike, astonishing Cynthia Nixon) is dense and dazzling, rigorous and subtle. The ritualistic stateliness of his camerawork is balanced by the bracing speed of his dialogue.

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