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

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