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The Neon Bible (Terrance Davies) 1996

    Terrance Davies' first film to take place in America, The Neon Bible is an occasionally powerful misfire is the coming of age tale of a young Southern boy named David. The film features Gena Rowlands as the film's protagonist's Aunt Mae. A feisty, sexual, sometimes lounge singer, she's a woman that's done a lot of living, and her introduction to David's world is an absolute eye opener. She represents the world outside his limited sphere. Once David meets her, he has no chance of being happy with the life that he has. When WWII takes his father out of the picture, his small family slides into a breakdown. There's a real sense of deterioration that taints the whole film in a unique way.

    Davies manages some interesting directorial feats here. More than almost any director, he knows how to convey a feeling of nostalgia. The entire film is a flashback, and the film's pacing and general mood never really allow us to forget that. Some scenes, such as a hypocritical yet impassioned church rally are portrayed with a crystallizing acuteness of detail (even when that detail is grotesquely inflated). Others, like the film's funeral scene, are reduced to a few impressionistic images. This reflective quality is the film's greatest hindrance, however. The film never really manages to shake out of the dull funk that daydreaming creates. Still, what it lacks in dramatic thrust is made up for in the momentary (and sometimes sustained) glimpses of brilliance.

* * *

October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman