Paul Kelly returns with this poetically filmed collaboration with indie-pop band Saint Etienne and delivers what is essentially a prequel to Finisterre (the first in a loose trilogy of London films). How We Used to Live is composed of footage taken entirely from the film archives at the British Film Institute, and delivers a lyrically retrospective look at London and what it means to those who inhabit the ever-changing, diverse city.
Anyone who has ever tried to understand his or her city will be struck by the intoxicatingly abstract, almost instinctively hewn nature of this film. The velvety tones of the voiceover weave together a hypnotic air of nostalgia and the documentary itself is littered with tongue-in-cheek jokes and whimsical portrayals of past culture.
London is highly romanticised and the “forest of concrete and glass” seems almost monochromic at times, highlighted by swelling music with themes of lost love and everlasting hope; children frequently laugh onscreen and there is a constant thread of eternally overlapping generations. The familiar landmarks scattered throughout the film and the involvement of a sign for Jesus Christ Superstar strike a modern tinge of identification through faded moments that flicker like wistful memories.
A wonderful scene towards the close of the film portrays a young man skateboarding with abandon through throngs of smartly dressed commuters, punks smoking cigarettes and the carefree ring of liberation. This vibrant highlighting of the value of life gives a timeless quality to the simple pleasures shown: these are all things that we can take satisfaction from now, and a valuable message is communicated. The message of humanity – the message of the joy in valuing the present moment no matter where it may fall – is echoed in the dulcet tones as the film fades to a close: “nothing has changed”.
How We Used to Live is released nationwide on 10th June 2014.
Watch the trailer for How We Used to Live here: