Impressions of … To The Wonder [Terrence Malick]

Well, well, well, what are we looking at here? Figures in a landscape, lovers wandering beneath a vast sky, lost in a world suffused with God’s benign, generalised love. With ‘Tree of Life’ synthesised a kind of autobiographical cosmic nostalgia, a man’s life, specifically his childhood, and the life of the universe, its birth, specifically, interwoven; some sequences were rapturous, unique, but not here, in this narrative of romantic indecision and infidelity Malick crosses the line from spiritual to religious, it’s too doctrinal, what we’re looking at is Terrence Malick coming out of the Catholic closet, and all the swooning steady-cam and the bucolic spiritual imagery aestheticises a very conservative sense of morality – (Marxist’s would call this ‘bourgeois mysticism’, I guess, “to the wonder”, indeed.)


there is an ambivalence, a mistrust of sex: the love affairs are bizarrely innocent, the women girlish, flirting and dancing in front of the man/camera, more like a daughter with her father – Olga Kurylenko’s character girlish to the point of being clinically immature; when the man (Ben Affleck) returns to his foreign lover and marries her, his ex (Rachel McAdam) argues he has turned what they had into mere ‘lust’ – but we didn’t see much evidence of that lust; the infidelity timorous and fraught with guilt – this is romantic love as a substitute for divine love

And what is the troubled priest (Javier Bardem) doing in this story, except to guide the viewer toward a proper understanding of the characters’ predicament, by making him troubled he attempts to avoid didacticism, but the tactic is too obvious, it makes the priest’s words more compelling because they appear hard won. On the other hand, his doubt means he can wander in front of the camera with the same pensive yearning as Ben Affleck’s conflicted lover, this equivalence at least removes the distance between laity and clergy, that’s something


I confess I have a little  sympathy for the film’s conclusion, the beauty of forgiveness, without reward (of a happy ending), and all that, but when it’s all over the experience was pleasant but inconsequential, which I don’t think is the response for which Malick would have been hoping


Impressions of … Upstream Color [Shane Carruth]

a hotel bar, Toronto, the early hours, Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg and David Lynch have been knocking back the whiskey sours, Lynch and Cronenberg decide they should make a movie together: it will have dream logic – a maggot will be ingested – through an inhaler – later it will crawl beneath a woman’s skin – the maggot will be sourced in the roots of a blue orchid – ingestion will make the victim completely suggestible, she’ll give up all her savings and lose her job, but remember nothing – for the rest of the movie she’ll be trying to work out what the hell happened to her life – there will be rabbits – no, pigs – okay, pigs – it will be a romance, says Malick quietly


Well, this movie has been made. By Shane Carruth. Who’s Shane Carruth? (No, not the guy serving the drinks in Toronto – that epic session never happened, I made it up.) Carruth is the guy who made ‘Primer’, the brilliantly mundane low-budget sci-fi feature that won Sundance back in 2004. I’d forgotten about him. ‘Upstream Color’ is sort of sci-fi too (I hope), this time pursued with sensuality and lyricism, both emotionally present and narratively elusive – it does have a narrative, but the logic is associative, the editing elliptical, and though, deep down, the film is rooted in procedure and process and details of ordinary life, the strange world it describes is one that doesn’t actually exist and one its characters struggle to understand

experimental, unnerving, a delight to the senses: this film is not a film, it’s a menu by Heston Blumenthal

an absolute treat

and possibly the greatest pig movie ever made



‘Upstream Color’ is being self-distributed through Carruth’s company, available on DVD, Blu-ray, download, and streaming:

Cannes vs. Oscar*

The Tree of Life‘, Terrence Malick’s first film in six years, has won the Palme d’Or. Good. You’ve got to be happy for the Malick. I’m not sure how enthusiastic I will be about the film, however. It sounds irksomely profound. Then again, from what I’d read, I wasn’t too sure about last year’s winner, ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,’ but was utterly enchanted by that film when I saw it, and when I came to consider it in writing, I found I loved it all the more (if you haven’t already read the article, you’ll find it here).

I had ‘Uncle Boonmee’ in mind when I started to prepare this blog. The build-up to the Academy Awards was also reaching a crescendo and the web was brimming with representations for and against ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Social Network’, ‘Black Swan’, et al. I was tempted to wade in, but resisted. The discussion seemed to assume the Academy’s decision was of some critical consequence and I didn’t want to buy in to that. Not any more. It’s not that the Academy makes mistakes on occasion: it’s that it rarely even permits itself to consider the best films, that’s without mentioning the campaigning now required to make an impact.

No, if there’s any award in the film world that comes consistently close to picking the film of the year, it’s the Palme d’Or. Unfortunately, we can’t get so involved in that pageant because so few of us will have seen the films. One thing’s for sure though: Cannes beats the Academy every time. Or does it?

I’ve knocked up a little pub game for us to play.

The last twenty Best Pictures versus the last twenty Palme d’Or winners. Pick your favourite each year and see who comes out on top. (If you haven’t seen both – why not?! – you can strike that year, and if you can’t decide, well, declare it a tie.) I’ll publish my scores, next Sunday.

Returning to ‘The Tree of Life‘, could this be the year that Cannes and Oscar* agree?

Cannes versus Oscar*

2010: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ~ The King’s Speech

2009: The White Ribbon ~  The Hurt Locker

2008: The Class ~  Slumdog Millionaire

2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days ~  No Country For Old Men

2006: The Wind That Shakes The Barley  ~  The Departed

2005: L’enfant ~  Crash

2004: Fahrenheit 9/11 ~  Million Dollar Baby

2003: Elephant ~  Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Ring

2002: The Pianist ~  Chicago

2001: The Son’s Room ~  A Beautiful Mind

2000: Dancer In The Dark  ~  Gladiator

1999: Rosetta ~  American Beauty

1998: Eternity and a Day ~  Shakespeare In Love

1997: Taste of Cherry / The Eel  ~  Titanic

1996: Secrets & Lies ~  The English Patient

1995: Underground ~  Braveheart

1994: Pulp Fiction ~  Forrest Gump

1993: The Piano / Farewell My Concubine  ~  Schindler’s List

1992: The Best Intentions ~  Unforgiven

1991: Barton Fink  ~  The Silence of the Lambs


If you haven’t already, please leave your scores/selection as a comment. I’m very interested to see which comes out on top. There’s an additional challenge now, as suggested by a reader: how many of these titles couldn’t be sat through again, or to put it another way, which of these titles would you never want to see again?