seems eerily fitting that Terrence Malick’s To
the Wonder would be the final film reviewed by the auteur’s longtime
champion, Roger Ebert. It is rather more
surreal to think Olga Kurylenko commenced production on Malick’s latest in
2010, the same year she worked on the forthcoming but already infamous mermaid potboiler Empires of the Deep. Yet, any new film from Malick is a cinematic
event in its own right. The director’s
admirers will find it is very much a Malickian statement, except perhaps more
so, when To the Wonder (trailer here) opens tomorrow
in New York.
and Marina meet in France and fall deeply in love. He is a visiting American. She is a Ukrainian single mother. Intending to start a new life together, she
and her daughter Tatiana move into his Oklahoma home, where the wind comes
sweeping down the plain. Their dreamy
ardor persists for a while, but soon fissures develop in their
relationship. Eventually, Marina and
Tatiana return to Europe. She and Neil
eventually feel compelled to make another try, but this time her daughter stays
with her (unseen) father. Despite the support
of the equally alienated Father Quintana, the couple’s issues persist.
under two hours, Wonder is
practically a short subject by Malick’s standards. However, he makes absolutely no stylistic
concessions. Frankly, it is more like a
series of tableaux than a movie, even of the art house variety. Framing lovely images is a hallmark of Malick’s
work, so his striking vistas should come as no surprise. Yet, at some point, moving pictures really
ought to, you know, move.
Wonder, Malick’s favored perspective
on Ben Affleck’s Neil is the back of his head, which is obviously deliberately distancing. Yet, in a way it suits the reserved and
reticent Oklahoman. Even as Malick and
his characters seemingly strain to shut viewers out, cracks of profundity occasionally
open up in the film. In one particularly
heavy moment, Father Quintana counsels Neil it is always difficult to be the
one who loves less than their partner.
Indeed, Neil has plenty of guilt to process without the consolation of Marina’s
emotional reveries. There’s something
for the daytime talk shows to chew on.
Father Quintana has lost (or at least misplaced) his faith. Nonetheless, it is a deeply sympathetic
portrait of a man of the cloth. Malick
unflinchingly captures his loneliness and the imperfect solace he finds in service
to others. Javier Bardem might not dig
into such deep and dark places as he did for Biutiful, but he still conveys a sense of a man with a long,
nobody is really granted a substantial backstory, it is incumbent on the cast
to evoke the sense their pains and regrets are rooted in something real and
universal. That is a real strength for
Bardem. Whereas Affleck is supposed to
be cold and aloof, Olga Kurylenko is also surprisingly effective and affecting
as the passionately needy Marina.
Viewers who lose patience with Wonder are not shallow philistines. Malick de-emphasizes plot and character
development in favor of imagery and in-the-moment impressionism. It is slow and at time pretentious. Yet, at the fleeting junctures where it all
comes together, it is like the epiphany produced by an audacious free jazz
performance. Dashed demanding, To the Wonder is mostly recommended for
hardy Malick followers when it opens tomorrow (4/12) in New York at the Walter
Reade Theater uptown and the Landmark Sunshine downtown.
Labels: Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Terrence Malick