Masterpiece or mess? Ever since To the Wonder premiered at the Venice Film Festival, film fans have been arguing about whether the latest from American filmmaker Terrence Malick is a work of beauty and power or just an endless Calvin Klein perfume ad.
Winnipeg cineastes can decide for themselves this weekend, when the drama screens at Cinematheque. Because of the elusive director's history, his fans are always excited for a new film.
Malick made his reputation in 1973 with Badlands, released Days of Heaven in 1978, and then retreated into 20 years of mysterious silence. He's since made The Thin Red Line, The New World and The Tree of Life.
Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko
Certainly, Malick's trademarks are all there in To the Wonder
. There is almost no conventional narrative and very little dialogue.
Ben Affleck is an Oklahoma engineer who falls in love with a French woman (Olga Kurylenko) but is also drawn to a woman he knows from before (Rachel McAdams). There is also a priest (Javier Bardem) who no longer feels the love of god but scrupulously performs his duties, hoping to find it again.
To the Wonder
is about love, and the failure of love, but the story is told almost completely through wordless, imagistic moments.
The film is also extraordinarily beautiful. Malick's sense of light and his finely attuned connection to the natural world are quite breathtaking, and the overall mood is powerful.
But some of Malick's odd mannerisms--his characters' whispered interior monologues, the women in their gauzy dresses running and twirling, the wind rustling the tall grass--veer pretty close to self-parody.
One of the charges against this film is that it's pretentious, but I honestly don't think it is. It's more that Malick is sincere about things that very few filmmakers are sincere about these days--love, death, god. To the Wonder
is a film about faith, and in a way, it requires faith-based viewing, not in the religious but in the cinematic sense. You just have to dive in.
I'm still willing to follow Malick. For me, To the Wonder
is a badly flawed film that also contains perfect moments.
On the other side, if you're not a Malick believer, this is not the film that's going to convert you. To the Wonder plays at Cinematheque September 5-8.