Last night Terrence Malick won the Palm d’Or at Cannes Film Festival for his newest film The Tree of Life, one of the few times that Cannes has managed to get it right, been waiting eagerly to see The Tree of Life for more than two years now since the news of the new Malick film came out, yet to see it! I know it is the best film of 2011, but can you judge a film before you see it? Yes, for I know Tree of Life is a masterpiece because Malick always make masterpieces, since his first film Badlands (1973), Malick has made only 5 films in the span of almost 40 years and every single of those film is on class on their own, like Chaplin, he is a perfectionist.
Terrence Malick is an auteur (Bazin would agree), he is his film. When one think of Malick one think of his film and not a person, the man is a mystery, he has never given an interview nor written anything about his art, he didn’t even show up at Cannes to get his prize, all we know about his is through his films, Malick exist only in the realm of Cinema.
Malick is a philosopher more than a filmmaker, his films combined is single body of work with key signature styles e found in all his films: He uses philosophical theme as narrative tool through use of voice-overs, the theme of love, loyalty, truth and death. The change of narrative from first person into multiple and at times third person narrative. Time and space is used within a single content as everything is happening now, be it past, present or future, montage above everything else.
Acting as gestures, people in a Malick film don’t act, they behave, gestures above psychology. They don’t talk, they recite. Nature as reflecting the emotions of the characters. Human relation to nature and the nature of the human nature with its surrounding, a tree is not a tree in a Malick film but rather it has it own form and life (The New World), the being as one not as many, even IT has a life in a Malick film, think of the House in Days of Heaven, it has a life of its own.
Above everything else, the multiple exposure of the audience into the rich narrative; images over images, sound over sound, music over music, narration over dialogue and dialogue as prose rather than a narrative tool to move forward the story. Within a single frame of a Malick film you may have multiple action taking place in term of narrative and style. That is why it would take you multiple viewing in order to get a full exposure to a Malick film. Malick shows far more than it tell, visual and sound above everything else. I must have watched his films (total of 4 so far) a total of 11 times and more to come for sure.
My first encounter with Malick was with his first film, Badlands (1973). It was in 2001 that first I watched Badlands, I was not impressed with the film at first. Checked out a poor quality VHS tape of the film from a local library with another film, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (you could only checkout 2 VHS). I first watched Lawrence of Arabia, blown away by the film, then came the turn of Badlands, and my first encounter with Malick was that of a disappointment, maybe it was the quality or maybe it was my naivety toward Art Cinema back then, I could only watch the first 20 minutes of the film (thinking now, the opposite is true, ranking Badlands way above Lawrence of Arabia). Left Malick alone for a while. It was Godard who made me discover Malick again, for after watching Godad’s Pierrot Le Fou (for god know how many times!) did then I went back to Badlands, few critic mention it, but there is a similar story-line between Badlands and Pierrot Le Fou and there is no doubt that Malick was influenced in some way by Godard: Both film evolve around two lovers as they commit a crime, away from everything, on the run they encounter various people and incidents, everything is against then, find comfort in nature, away from civilization only to get back into it, end up separated, both film are poetic, stylistic and use nonlinear narrative. So, checking back on my film diary, I went back to Malick on February 12, 2004 to see Badlands again, so impressed by the film this time that I watched it three times within two days.
Days of Heaven (1978)
From Badlands to Days of Heaven in Malick’s career span 5 years, but I in my film diary it span only two days, it was in February 14, 2004 that I noted watching Days of Heaven. Nowadays you could get Days of Heaven on gorgeous Blu-ray DVD from Criterion Collection, but in 2004 the only version available on DVD was a bad transferred print from Paramount, the version I watched was even pan and scanned, cropped for a 4:3 TV screen, imaging watching a film that was shot on 70mm on such quality. Yet, watching a massacred version of Days of Heaven did not take away from the greatness of the film, one of the few films that has the capability to capture poetry into a visual/lyrical form of images within a fictional narrative.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
It has been said that after making Days of Heaven, Malick left Hollywood for France to work various jobs to support himself, he was gone for two decades but back with another epic poem, the anti-war masterpiece The Thin Red Line. Twenty year later for Malick to make another film, watching if after Days of Heaven, you never could tell that the man was away for so long.
The New World (2005)
Finally, I had a chance to watch The New World on the first day of its opening in Nashville, TN. One of the few times that impatiently I waited for a film to open in a theater. How did it fell to watch a Malick film on the big screen? That is a question that could be answered by watching a Malick film on a big screen, so if you ever get a chance to do so, never miss it. Eagerly waiting to see The Tree of Life.