Saturday, 16 July 2011

tree of life (w&d malick)

Seated in the most comfortable cinema seat I've ever encountered, something so lush and leathery its comfort was as much of a distraction as a comfort, I had a Borgesian thought. Which is that cinema is aspiring to attain the perfection of the trailer. Wherein every moment is lush, pregnant with the incipient meaning of the film it represents, condensed with signifiers. And that cinema is in danger of aspiring to create cinema not as narrative, but as trailer. Ultimately films will all be trailers for a film which will never be made. Each moment in its 2 hours plus running time a signifier for a narrative it might one day have told, if films ran to days or weeks.

It's not entirely by chance that this thought should have occurred whilst watching Malick's oeuvre about the growing pains of a teenage boy in the American fifties. Lets be honest: the narrative here is entirely secondary to the sensory experience. Which is why it gets away with some Gaspar Noe style images of volcanos and what I took to be eggs being fertilised and even some ropey dinosaur CGI. The kid and his brother's story is told in images, with the usual bathetic Malickian voiceover, once again pregnant with suppressed meaning (in the same way as the voiceover in a trailer). And there were moments as I sat in that uber-comfortable seat when the whole thing hovered on the point of working; when I almost brought myself to invest in this child's life and fate, in Malick's restless pursuit of a utopic domestic harmony.

Then he goes and has them wandering around the south of Chile like something out of those old British Airways adverts, the whole family and all their non-friends, dressed in white. And the film felt oncemore like an advertisement for itself. Which might be the dasein as opposed to the opposite of dasein or it might be something else, but in the end felt oddly de-sensitised, Riefenstahlian, like the product of a society which has allowed technology to separate story from feeling, which is in danger of retreating into pure image.

But maybe that was just the seat's fault. I have a feeling I'll enjoy The Tree of Life more the next time I see it. See the unceasing roving of the camera as questing rather than the indication of a neurosis; see the acting as brechtian rather than wooden. There was some discussion of Malick versus Kubrick in the pub afterwards. I'd say the film which eclipses Malick's as an exploration of the perils and joys of childhood is actually Erdem's Times and Winds. But perhaps discussion of its merits is irrelevant, because Tree of Life is just a trailer for a film which has yet to be released.

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