Premiering at the Venice Film Festival this week was Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, a film that arrives with much anticipation and curiosity. As with any Malick film, first impressions seem to be quite divisive, as was the case with his last film, The Tree of Life.
Now that critics have had a chance to see the film, impressions are popping up online and we’ve compiled a handful of them for your viewing pleasure.
Check them out below:
Perhaps there is a hidden rhythmic and thematic structure behind the facade of To the Wonder that has to do with the coming and going of seasons and emotions, the rise and fall of relationships, the difficulty of sustaining love and faith and so on, all connected to the use of music and the echoing of voice-over. If so, however, it doesn’t assert itself meaningfully during the act of watching a film that seems drained of life and ideas rather than sustained by them.
“To The Wonder” feels like a film about absence, about longing, or “thirsting,” as Javier Bardem’s character puts it at one point. Marina longs for her lover, longs for her daughter when she’s away, longs for a reaction from the distant Neil as their relationship becomes strained. Neil, meanwhile, is always looking for something else – a classic grass is greener type, torn between Marina and Jane, loving both, but unable to decide. And Quintana wander the rougher parts of town, thirsting for a sign that God is listening to him in a world with so little evidence that his Lord exists. They’re all characters with a void in their existence (like Penn in “The Tree Of Life”), and it hit us on something of a gut level.
While the traditional end-of-love story left viewers unsatisfied, the more moving parts of the film were the exploration of divine love and natural beauty, like the warming light felt by Bardem through a stained glass window.
Of course, as with any of Malick’s offerings, both the music and cinematography are undeniably breathtaking – but even this beauty, this wonder, has now transcended into cliché. Malick’s extreme concentration on capturing the magic hour neglects the 23 other hours. Potentially interesting sub-plots – Affleck’s Neil seems to have some kind of job, Bardem’s Samaritan-like work with the poor – are abandoned for sunsets and sunrises. The ‘sublime’ is supposed to surprise, rather than simply being timetabled. It remains to be seen whether To the Wonder is a misstep, or the sad decline of a once fantastically innovative filmmaker, lost in the limitations of his own inimitable style.
In addition to the reviews, there are also a whole bunch of Tweets that offer some insight into what to expect from To The Wonder. For the most part, they’re actually quite negative, but then again, first impressions of The Tree of Life that arrived from Cannes weren’t exactly positive.
In fact, if I recall correctly, critics slammed the film when it first premiered. Sure, the odd positive review would pop up here and there but coming out of Cannes, the reviews were pretty awful.
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