First time director Richard Billingham takes a step further from the still image, moving towards the motion picture with his challengingly honest meditation on his parents, Ray and Liz, as well as life on the margins of society, outside of Birmingham and during the Thatcher era. Ray & Liz moves from abrasive to quiet and back again, perfectly mirroring the archaic journey that those in similar circumstances go through.
For Billingham, this isn’t the first time he’s shared his experiences around growing up with his parents. The very first invitation was made with his famous photographs, which were accompanied with self-written text that reflected his decisions and feelings towards the piece. These photographs were bravely honest and although Billingham was originally embarrassed to reveal his personal life, it soon became a great way for him to better understand both himself and his parents.
The film predominantly sits within the small council flat the family reside in. Ripples are effectuated between Ray and Liz as they react to the weight of each uncontrollable conflict they face. Ruminating on loneliness throughout, bouncing from the avid smoker Liz (Ella Smith) and the alcoholic Ray (Justin Salinger), the film’s steady pace amplifies the distance between every individual, resulting in a frustrating response from the viewer – though, in a good way.
What this piece lacked it feels is a strong sense of story: a moving lake, not a stagnant puddle, if you will, giving a sense to the viewer that we are in fact moving towards some kind of change from the film’s introduction.
The end result with Ray & Liz is a film that is better classed as a moving photograph rather than a film. Though this can be viewed as a negative, artistically the film is oozing with symbolic imagery and little language, as to create a quiet that only amplifies the feeling of loneliness. Its artistic edge can be credited to Billingham’s artistic sensibilities, as well as the masterful photography of DOP Daniel Landin (Under the Skin).
The paintings featured throughout are memorable as they don’t portray a man or a landscape: they tell of a man trapped, confined within a frame. Similar to the film, both Ray and Liz were victim to that as well. This film provides a meditation on that darkening aspect of the human experienced which simply isn’t spoken about enough: isolation and inescapability.
Dir: Richard Billingham
Prd: Jacqui Davies, Adam Partridge & Ed Talfan
Scr: Richard Billingham
Cast: Ella Smith, Justin Salinger
DOP: Daniel Landin
Runtime: 108 mins
Ray & Liz (2018) is available in selected cinema across the UK.