Posts Tagged ‘Cate Blanchett’

‘It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.’

This quote from the writer Raymond Carver seems very apt when we approach the work of Terrence Malick. Malick has a way of drawing attention to somewhat ordinary things, fragments of everyday life, and making them seem wondrous. After watching his latest film, my path home through London took on a different feeling; the tiled skyscrapers appeared majestic and untouchable, the empty tube and escalators eerie and mysterious. Even with a lesser work as Knight of Cups, Malick has the ability to make the audience see the world in a different way.

Christian Bale plays Rick, the jaded Hollywood screenwriter at the heart of the film, a stoic, passive observer of the insanity around him. His world is full of lavish, hedonistic parties at picturebook mansions and an endless stream of wild beauties. People seem to flow in and out of his life like ocean waves; his tyrannical father (Brian Dennehy), his errant brother (Wes Bentley) and saintly ex-wife (Cate Blanchett). There is a portentous voiceover by Ben Kingsley, reciting The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, detailing a man’s descent into hell and ultimate salvation.

Continuing on from the improvisation of To the Wonder, Malick has appeared to strip away all forms of conventional storytelling, relying on sound and image to conjure a mood. Rick is near mute throughout the film, with snippets of breathless narration the only illumination of his character. It is somewhat sad how the last two films in Malick’s oeuvre have progressed. He was once noted for his ability to illicit strong, memorable performances from his actors, yet now he seems to use them as mere floating, emoting mannequins. The pompous narration does little to assuage this disconnect; it is difficult to feel anything for these characters.

What is frustrating about Knight of Cups is that it is a genuinely beautiful film. There are countless images that other film makers scrabble their whole lives for, yet there is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, of banality. The relentless beauty becomes dulling, and because there is no emotional connection with the characters or the story, they become shallow. I never thought I would use ‘shallow’ to describe a Malick film, but there we are. DOP Emmanuel Lubezki’s camerawork is again astounding, roaming and swooping, ducking and diving, swirling and twirling, but we may have come to a point when it might actually be a hindrance to Malick.

Lubezki’s collaboration with Malick has been the most notable change in his recent career, and it has been an exceedingly rich meeting of minds. However, Lubezki’s eye is beginning to overpower the story, or what little there is of it. The sprawling improvisation that Lubezki has allowed Malick seems to have dulled his senses- perhaps Malick needs to go back to basics for his next one. The still framing of Badlands and Days of Heaven, a more linear structure, more causal development of characters. In Knight of Cups, there is a feeling that Malick has indulged himself too much, much like the central protagonist Rick.

There are some redeeming points to the film. Hanan Townshend’s score is playful and nuanced, giving this contemporary story a classical, mythical grounding. Some images will linger in the mind, even if they are somewhat literal, such as the canine diving into the luminescent pool, yearning to gets its jaws around an elusive ball. It is an obvious metaphor for Rick’s own struggle to find meaning, always clutching out for something more. Sadly, we find Malick in a similar mode, reaching out for greatness and falling at the last moment.

 

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Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 14.45.15As winter comes upon us and the nights draw in, it seems natural to reflect on the fruits of the previous year. But considering 2015’s cinema releases, the quality seems as scarce as the leaves on the trees. So let’s give thanks that a genuinely good film has arrived to leave 2015 looking a little sprightlier.

Carol is the latest film by veteran US indie director Todd Haynes, a sensuous, nuanced romance between two women set in 50’s America. Rooney Mara plays Therese, an elfin, wide-eyed store clerk who catches the eye of Carol, played by Cate Blanchett. If Therese is shy and unsure of herself, then Carol is the opposite; confident, worldly, seductive. While Therese, betrothed to her beefy fiancee, struggles with her feelings of attraction, we learn that Carol already has enough experience of the same sex. In the midst of a messy divorce to her rich husband Harge, Carol’s dalliances with her friend Abby has left their marriage soured.

There is a brilliantly concise scene early on in the film where Therese and her journo friend discuss why people are attracted to a certain type of picture or subject. The message of the scene is clear; there is no real rhyme or reason to why one person is attracted to another, it just happens. As their attraction deepens, Carol and Therese lose sight of the world around them and embark on a roadtrip across the country, escaping their bewildered spouses. It is, for the most part, wonderfully idyllic. Soulful gazes out at wintery landscapes, hushed intimacy, and passionate lovemaking.

That it begins to fall apart is inevitable, this IS a melodrama after all. Haynes has ploughed this furrow in previous films, most notably Far From Heaven, which dealt with similar themes of repression and forbidden romance. It’s an unusual story however for the writer Patricia Highsmith. She was widely known for her razor sharp, twisty psychological thrillers, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley. Carol, on the other hand, while flawlessly plotted, is warmer and less cynical. It will go down as one of the finest Highsmith adaptations yet.

I don’t think there has been a better performance by Blanchett. She is at times dominant, prowling, other times vulnerable, beaten. When she is on screen there is a radiant glow that draws you towards her, and we can see why Therese is so intoxicated with her. Rooney Mara is very fine as well, perfecting the role of the otherworldly, glacial younger woman. The film is very interesting in how it subverts the traditional gender roles; while we have seen plenty of femme fatales on screen, it is rare to see a character like Carol seducing another woman in such a dominant manner. But it is tender too.

Haynes has always been a sensory film maker, if we think back to his claustrophobic thriller Safe and how he manipulated the banal sights and sounds of LA into a horror tale. Carol is of course quite different, but similarly immersive. The film is shot through with a warm, nostalgic glow and the camera sidles in closely to the characters; lingering, loving shots of fur coats, china white hands and blushed cheeks. It is not just that you observe the intoxication of love with these characters, it is that you actually begin to feel it. Carter Burwell’s delicate score echoes the ebb and flow of the scenes faultlessly.

Carol is one of those rare films that is intelligent and cerebral but also naked and sentimental. Every beat of the story is marked by an emotional authenticity; there is not a misstep or a stumble here. Haynes and his crew turn an incisive eye on the tribulations of 50’s repression and give us a moving portrayal of two human beings struggling against an unjust society. It is a testament to the film that we feel with them every step of the way.

 

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