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Monday, February 9, 2015
Notes on a masterpiece called Knight Of Cups by Terrence Malick, USA: 2015-Berlinale 2015-IV.-Competition
For Patricio Guzman
It might have been pure accidental but
the programming of Malick´s Knight Of Cups and Guzman´s El Botón de
Nacár was a very lucky one. Both directors have go a nearly legendary
reputation when they were in their Thirties and both filmmakers are
hunted by grieve and losses of their personal biography.
Like expected Knight Of Cups is like
Malick´s two previous films autobiographic inspired. Even
though made with proper Hollywood budgets, his last films are rather radical manifestations of the french term “Caméra Stylo” in the
sense of Truffaut as radical personal films. For all those who wonder
how I can love Ozu, Ford, Naruse, Hou Hsiao Hsien and Terrenca Malick
at the same time, I suggest there are two kind of great film maker.
The first kind was able to make an effort finding their place in
cinema where they can make the films they want. The second kind are
filmmaker who are Looking for their place in the (film)-world.
Terrence Malick, Ritwik Ghatak and Hiroshi Shimizu belong for my side
to this second group whom I call “searchers”. Their creative
energy is mostly absorbed by this search-movement. Christian Bale´s
Rick is like Jack in The Tree of Life and Neil in To The Wonder )whom
I will suggest as Malick´s Egos) a driven person looking for his
place in the world. Interestingly this searching aspect of Malick is also reflected in his most impressive female characters played
ny Linda Manz, Q´Orianka Kilcher or Olga Kurylenko. Most of Malick´s
characters are uprooted. If they have a home, they will loose it.
After To The Wonder, Knight Of Cups
takes place even more in urbane and contemporary landscapes. In both
films we see a lot of homeless people whose misfortune correspondents
with the mental situation of the main protagonists.
In all carefulness in stressing the
term of “autobiographic elements" too much I have the strong feeling
that sometimes more and sometimes less encrypted Malick embeds very
personal confessions related to a more global vision of the world. If
we follow Niles Schwartz in his definition of The Tree of Life as a
requiem for his late brother and if we follow Rob Turner who
interpreted To The Wonder as among other aspect as well as an elegy
on Malick´s second wife, Rick in Knight of Cups is script writer and
as a creative person most close to Malick. If we see them all as
reflections of Malick himself, we have to notice they are rather
traveled and failed and at best looking for their place in the world.
The film begins with a recitation of
Rick´s father. It is a story of a prince from the East sent from his
father to look in Egypt for a pearl. But the prince drinks the wine
of forgetfulness. Even though his father sent him signs, the prince
remains lost. In strange way the introduction is an echo of the
tragedy of Pocahontas uprooting from her tribe in The New World.
Since Malick´s collaboration with
Emanuel Lubezki and his fluid mostly handheld camera movements became
one dominant element in Malicks films since The New World, this
stylistic element became an adequate physical transmission of the
mental conditions of its protagonists.
In several shots we see Rick alone and
lost in a desert like the adult Jack in The Tree of Life. We do not
just see Rick searching for a way out of the desert, the camera
movements make this inner search traceable in a concrete physical way
cinema can offer.
The apartment he lives in seems to big
for him and he often seems as lost as in the desert. The thin and
fragile illusion of a home and protection is shattered by an
earthquake. As natural and physical affecting phenomenon it reflects
also the mental quakes of a disturbed life, the loss of his younger
brother who probably committed suicide and the very difficult
relationship to his father. Later Rick will be attacked by armed
robber in his apartment. They are angry because there is not much to
rob in this apartment. The kind Malick´s characters live in his last
two films are provisional arrangements.
The film is structured in several
chapters all called after Tarot-cards. Well for some critics who are
blind enough to call Malick´s films are esoteric they will find
another pseudo-proof. For me it is just another proof for Malick´s
refreshing inspirations and his daring playfulness. And there is also
again talk about the non-existence of a proper script. And if it is
so, than it is another proof for Malick as one of the most inspired
filmmaker of our time and last but not least he might follow the
tradition of a Chaplin or a Shimizu, who often worked with not more
than some pages of vague notes.
While we see Rick trying to fill his
emptiness and his depressions with parties and Sex as a replacements
for his failed relationships to women, he seems for a while totally
absorbed be the neon lights of a pseudo reality, the mask of the
modern neoliberal American capitalism Almost literally when he leaves
this illusory world he stumbles over homeless people in the real
streets of Los Angeles. Also reality and the illusory world are here
dramatized through the contrast of artificial and natural light.
Like in The Tree Of Life the father-son
conflict has here a lot of weight. Rick´s rebellion against his
father is also a rebellion against the definition of a grim god , Job
had to deal with. This goes with Malick´s gentle definition of God
as pure love. Rick´s “pilgrimage” goes through excesses and very
concrete physical desires. But in Malick´s world, these physical
desires often distorted by drug-like excesses are part of this
pilgrimage. To find the meaning of our existence, it is a crime to
ignore the body as the most important evidence of the creation. There
is hardly any film director alive with such a deep love and
admiration for the bodies of living creatures. Rick´s addiction to
women is his problem. The prostitutes he meets are both, reflections
of his desires but at the same time persons with a soul. The
definition slut or whore do not exist in Malick´s cinematic world at
all. He is a poet and not a judge.
In Knight of Cups we see a lot of
devices, machines, men-made things. Very often we see Helicopters
flying. Artificial lights in the streets at night, in bars or at
parties. Especially these devices , I see as metaphors for the device
of cinema, the image-making apparatus. As a contrast to this world of
machines, the technical aspect of cinema included we see as well the
nakedness of the existence of living creatures. Christian Bales´face
is mostly stuck in despair, depression as a lost soul.
There are many car rides in this film
in a total synchrony with the fluid camera movement. The more this
film reveals all these devices which are part of our civilization,
the more his fluid camera reveals a cultivation of the cinematic
apparatus, paradoxically we feel more and more our own nakedness. We
are not too far away from the several homeless people in the streets
of Los Angeles.
A woman saves with her bare hand a wasp
against drowning in a swimming pool. A caressing gesture which moved
me (who really hates wasps) to the bones. Despite all his use of the
devices modern film technology has to offer, Knight of Cups is first
of all symptomatic for the Cinema of Terrence Malick as an act of
grace. I am not blind for the eloquence in his use of this apparatus
of cinema and its cultivation. But what always moves me to tears and
what finally was the key in my attraction to his films are these
incredible gestures of tenderness, evidences of a deep love for the
living creatures. Terrence Malick is not only like Ritwik Ghatak an
important searcher and cultivator of cinema, he is also one of the
most compassionate director cinema has ever originated.
Rüdiger Tomczak a German version which is almost identical with the English original text is on my website
Thurs, Feb 11, Friederichstadtpalast 9.30 and 15.00
Sun, Feb 15, Friedrichstadtpalsst, 13.00