Sunday, 22 May 2011

The greatest film director of all time?

A new Terence Malick film is a cinematic event. And they are events that don't happen very often - Malick's last film, The New World, was released six years ago. But, in the past week, The Tree of Life previewed at the Cannes film festival. For those who love movies the excitement around this film - a family drama spanning multiple time periods including the creation of the universe - is palpable. The critic, Chris Wisniewski, sums up why Malick is such a significant director:
Those rambling philosophical voice overs; the placid images of nature, offering quiet contrast to the evil deeds of men; the stunning cinematography, often achieved with natural light; the striking use of music - here is a filmmaker with a clear sensibility and aesthetic who makes narrative films that are neither literary nor theatrical, in the sense of foregrounding dialogue, event, or character, but are instead principally cinematic, movies that suggest narrative, emotion and idea through image and sound.

One thing Wisniewski overlooks is Malick's intelligence. There are not many directors that studied for a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford. Malick's thesis, under the direction of Gilbert Ryle, was on the concept of world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Wittgenstein. These philosophical interests underpin his cinematic work. So, for example, The Thin Red Line, uses the visual medium of cinema to discuss the nature of original sin. In this way, Malick takes cinema to an intellectual level that is rarely explored by other directors.

Peter Bradshaw awarding The Tree of Life five stars in The Guardian, writes that "This is visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale: cinema that's thinking big. Malick makes an awful lot of other film-makers look timid and negligible by comparison."

Time Out's Dave Calhoun said: "The Tree of Life offers breathtaking imagery and even manages to survive an epic detour to the dawn of time, featuring the Big Bang, dinosaurs, meteors and all.

"It's so ambitious and full of inquiring ideas and questions about our place in the world that, perhaps inevitably, it feels like a grand folly - albeit a heartfelt and stimulating one."

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