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21 March 2011

Days of Heaven

directed by Terence Malick

The greatest thing about the almost singular genius of writer/director Terence Malick is also the greatest tragedy (for me, at least): Malick is so gorgeously unprolific that his entire body of work (in which he had complete control as writer and director, that is, for he did pen other films that he did not direct) can be watched in one day. Malick’s work conveys a quiet sense of vastness, of immensity, of cosmic melancholy that he somehow funnels through a pinhole, until the flash of a smile, or a sentence, or a low angel shot of a tree can touch you like a flooring, magnificent crescendo. Malick finds wonder and desperation, beauty and sadness, chaos and order in even the simplest things, and Days of Heaven distills this point of view into a stunning, hypnotic, dreamlike experience that will move you in unexpected ways. Days of Heaven tells the story of Bill, Abby, and Bill’s little sister Linda (who also serves as the magically fantastic narrator), who flee to the plains to escape Bill’s misdeeds. Together, they find work on the farm of a young but ailing man (Sam Shepard) who is drawn to Abby, and thus offers to keep the three on after the harvest. The acting is amazing, especially from Linda Manz, whose voice as the narrator is a compelling wonder that makes you hang on every word, and the cinematography is superb. Malick’s tale of love, deception, and cosmic trials makes the Rockies seem like a handful of goose down, and the result is a marvelous and fragmented tale in which we catch snippets of conversations, but feast upon images and sequences that speak volumes.

When viewed as a whole, Malick’s work is less of filmic canon as it is a philosophical thesis in a visual form, with a depth and a breadth as vast as the universe itself. Malick’s Tree of Life is due out this year, and I feel that this film could be his ultimate work, which makes it a candidate for best film of all time (look out, Citizen Kane).

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