Wednesday, May 18, 2011
DAYS OF HEAVEN
(September 1978, U.S.)
If there's one word I can come up with to define director Terrance Malick, that word would be SPARINGLY. His films are released sparingly - only four since 1973 with his fifth one on the way. Dialogue is used sparingly at moments where it only seems absolutely necessary to convey the story. Admitedly, this can be frustrating to the viewer, but you manage to console yourself with the compensation of outstanding cinematography of the natural land and environment.
DAYS OF HEAVEN is set in the early 20th century and it tells the story of two poor lovers (pretending to be brother and sister), Bill and Abby (played by a very young Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), as they travel to the Texas Panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer. Bill encourages Abby to claim the fortune of the dying farmer (played by Sam Shepard) by tricking him into a false marriage. This results in an unstable love triangle and a series of unfortunate events. The farmer's foreman suspects their scheme and the farmer's health unexpectedly remains stable, foiling Bill's plans. Eventually, the farmer discovers Bill's true relationship with Abby. But at the same time, Abby has actually begun to fall in love with her new husband. Complications continue when Bill and the farmer finally confront each other over their scheme and Bill accidentally kills the farmer, forcing him to flee from the law with Abby.
This film is widely recognized as a landmark of 1970s cinema and emphasizes powerful symbolic imagery over conventional dialogue (used sparingly) and plotting. For myself, I cannot claim that it's a great film, but the filming of the natural land is breathtaking; just like stepping into Andrew Wyeth's famous painting "Christina's World" (look it up), which I understand was, indeed, a strong influence on the film's cinematography. It's very easy to claim that DAYS OF HEAVEN is a film that's not exactly sure what it wants to be; a human love story or a period piece? Who knows. The fact is, though, that while you're watching it's stunning imagery, you practically don't even think about it. The only real irritating flaw of this film for me is the narration. Having to listen to the voice of Linda Manz (just a little girl) for ninety-three minutes is like listening to the voice of a drunken idiot.
Favorite line or dialogue (what little there is of it):
Linda: "Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."