Tagged: The Tree of Life
Review – Gravity (2013)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men stands alongside Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Duncan Jones’s Moon as one of the most interesting science fiction offerings since the turn of the century. Soon after the release of that film he went into pre-production on an even more ambitious science fiction project, Gravity. After a long wait, and going through a couple of studios and numerous casting changes, that film has finally hit the screen and with it Cuarón has stepped into the realm of the truly visionary. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has been thrown around by a number of critics as a point of comparison and rightly so. As was the case with Kubrick’s film in the late 1960s, Gravity a massive step forward in terms of creating an experience for the viewer and giving us some idea of what it must be like to be in space.
The simple narrative follows two astronauts, the rookie Ryan Stone (Bullock) and the experienced Matt Kowalski (Clooney), who are doing maintenance work on the Hubble Telescope when a field of debris from an exploded Russian satellite comes their way. Travelling so fast that it orbits the world every ninety minutes, the debris tears through everything in its path, destroying the Hubble, their shuttle and killing their crew. Stone and Kowalski are left floating in orbit, without radio contact with Earth, to try and get themselves back home. A classic survival tale, peculiarly the film is as much about being willing to let go as it is about fighting to hold on.
While the screenplay and the performances from Bullock and Clooney are solid, it is the visuals; the cinematography and digital effects, that make Gravity something special. Together with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón manages to make space simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizingly beautiful. Lubezki, who was also responsible for the stunning photography of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, gives Gravity a number of moments where the power of the image alone will make you say “Wow.” The film starts with one continuous, 13 minute shot in which the scenario for the film is set up, and this sets the stylistic tone. Gravity employs a number of long shots to great effect, drifting with the characters, giving the camera the same sense of weightless movement as the protagonists. The film also seamlessly moves between points-of-view. A shot may start from within the helmet of one of our characters, looking out, but then move out, turning to catch their reaction to what we’ve just seen.
To get the full experience, Gravity is a film you need to see at the cinema and you need to see it in 3D. I’m not generally a huge fan of the 3D medium. Nine times out of ten it is an unnecessary gimmick used as an excuse to add a couple of dollars to ticket prices and inflate box office revenue. But there are some films, that remaining one out of ten, for which the 3D medium really works and Gravity is such a film. Cuarón’s film is experiential, it is about feeling the experience of being adrift in space, and the 3D helps to immerse you in that.
Gravity is a glorious, profound piece of cinema, and while it is not perfect – there are one or two points at which the spell is momentarily broken – it is unlike any experience you will have at the movies this year.
Rating – ★★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – To the Wonder (2012)
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Terrence Malick is not your usual filmmaker. He was a philosophy student at Harvard who graduated summa cum laude before heading to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before deciding to enrol at the American Film Institute. Since then he has had an intriguing 40 year career as a director which has amazingly only resulted in six feature films. While he left academia a long time ago, that philosophical streak still exists in his work, and as he has grown older his films have become increasingly contemplative and esoteric.
His last film, The Tree of Life, divided critics and audiences alike with some declaring it the film of the year while others found it excessively self-indulgent and pretentious. His new picture, To the Wonder is a similar style of film to Tree of Life, though likely a step further away from the mainstream and less well executed.
As a filmmaker, Malick is growing increasingly disinterested in narrative. So while To the Wonder has a narrative of sorts it is not really the primary focus of the film. We meet two outsiders living in Oklahoma. Marina is a Ukranian single mother who has moved to America from Paris after falling in love with an American, Neil. Father Quintana is a Hispanic Catholic priest who moved to the area to minister. Both have been compelled to move their by love, but both now find themself feeling increasingly isolated and distant from that love. The picture contrasts Marina’s relationship difficulties with Quintana’s crisis of faith.
For this exploration of love in its different forms, Malick is more interested in evoking than describing. Instead of getting scenes, we simply glimpse moments. Instead of having passages of dialogue, we capture a sentence here or there. The prominence of the musical score over dialogue means the film can feel almost like a silent movie.
Like The Tree of Life, To the Wonder is a visual and aural experience with an ethereal quality. The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked twice before with Malick, is breathtaking. Whether in the streets of Paris, the plains of Oklahoma or the humble homes of Bartlesville, Lubezki and Malick give us beautiful, emotive images. However unlike its predecessor, To the Wonder doesn’t have the substance to support its style. The combination of these stunning images, an expressive score, and a narration of philosophical whisperings in French and Spanish has led more than one critic to liken the film to a high end perfume commercial.
An impressive principal cast including Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem suggests that the chance to work with Malick is obviously a draw card for actors. But don’t come expecting to see movie stars because Malick’s camera doesn’t treat them that way. Case in point is Ben Affleck, who despite being a big name star, constantly finds himself on the periphery of the frame, often with his head cut out of the picture. In the film’s first passages in Paris Affleck hardly says a word. We assume this is because his character doesn’t speak French, but then when the film migrates to America we still don’t hear from him.
To the Wonder has an impassioned spirituality. You can’t help but feel that there is an autobiographical element to Father Quintana’s longing to again experience the presence of Christ in the world around him. Unfortunately though, the film lacks clarity, with the vagueness of its events, characters and themes more likely to leave you scratching your head than deep in philosophical reflection.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
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