Mainstream Experimental

Posted: November 6, 2011 by antoniobunt in Angry Man, Neglected Sundays
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My students Polly Pocket Girl and Big Jim Dude (they are dating by the way) asked me this week a question: Did you like  [Terrence Malick`s] The Tree of Life?

The first reply couldn’t be more spontaneous: HUM! Because that question doesn’t have an easy answer but here’s a try:

The virtual impossibility of Hollywood to make new icons (think for instance in the new Steven Splieberg’s Tintin film mixed with Indiana Jones’ DNA), the perpetual remakes or all the superheroe movies from recent years are just some examples, clear examples about the creativity crisis cinema is suffering.

Nowadays, it seems that there is other cinema where films are not just entertainment but the true art form that has been neglected to films mainly for economic reasons: an entertaining film makes big bucks, intelligent films don’t.

Films like Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Weerasethakul), last year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and now The Tree of Life, seem to dictate the tendency of this “other cinema”.

This French Riviera festival has been known to legitimise trends by judging awards from the past: François Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour for the French New Wave; the Dardenne Brothers’s Rosetta for the New European Realism or Thomas Vinterberg’s Celebration for Dogme 95 just to name a few.

The Tree of Life feels a lot like an experimental film disguised as a mainstream film: big stars appear on it like Brad Pitt (also one of the producers of the film) and Sean Penn, two of the greatest actors in Hollywood.

This new Terrence Malick’s film has no plot therefore, the synopsis can just be a thin stroyline (a family with three kids  in the late 1950’s and its dynamics) that serves just as a pretext to talk about very important subjects: guilt, pain, growing up, love, parenthood, in short, it talks about life and its different stages.

If you expect to see a shirtless Brad Pitt from the unbearable Legends of the Fall, the greatness of this actor is that he is now choosing roles according to his age evolution. In this one, he plays an apparently cruel family man who prepares his kids for the cruelty of real life by being distant and authoritarian.

The film depicts us self-contained characters, great acting and over all transmits us states of mind and conciousness (or unconciousness for that matter) for us to think about (one of the great sins of Hollywood or Mexican mainstream  television: make us think!!!) rather than a straight storyline.

It’s what Ray Carney wrote in the foreword of Rick Schmidt’s excellent book Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices back in 2000: Make a movie that is narratively inconclusive or open to different interpretations. (Yet another sin!)

The cinematotography by Emmanuel Lubezki is simply breathtaking. The camera work is exquisite.

After the morally objectionable The Thin Red Line (the enemy is actually shown as the “bad guys” when  the film screamed for a more complex good vs. bad story) and the Valium-esque The New World (actually I prefer Disney’s Pocahontas!!! and that’s an over-statement), Malick offers us a film that is not to like or not but to contemplate with clear resonance to the metaphysical works of Ingmar Bergam (even actress Jessica Chastain has a striking ressemblance to a young Liv Ullmann), Carl Theodor Dreyer or Robert Bresson.

Famously reclusive Terrence Malick studied philosophy and it shows in this film as Jean-Luc Godard declared that cinema is the modern way to make philosophy: The Tree of Life is a clear example of it.

Have a great week and remember: in the cinema, the guy who has the final word is always the one who sells the pop-corn!

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