Cult US director Terrence Malick's latest work To the Wonder failed to impress many of its first viewers at the Venice film festival on Sunday, with more than a few boos amid tepid applause.
The eagerly awaited flick with Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams is ambitious in scope, exploring many forms of love through beautifully shot imagery and poetic voiceovers by its protagonists.
It starts with a love story between Affleck and Kurylenko that finds its perfect expression in the picturesque cloister garden of Mont Saint Michel in France -- the Wonder in the film and an idyll that quickly turns sour.
The couple move to Oklahoma in the United States where they meet a priest played by Bardem, who is himself falling out of love with God as he is confronted with the poverty and misery in the underbelly of middle America.
This is self-indulgent filmmaking -- a charge also levelled against Malick for his last film "The Tree of Life" starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, which still impressed the jury in Cannes last year and won the Palme d'Or.
In To the Wonder there is little acting in the traditional sense and many of the emotions are portrayed through facial expressions and gestures.
While Kurylenko - the Bond girl in Quantum of Solace - and Bardem mostly manage to pull this difficult performance off, Affleck is unconvincing with his gormless expressions interspersed with occasional scowls and smiles.
Malick "told us to throw away the words and to think them. He's able to give you the emotions through the bodies, the silence, the eyes," Kurylenko said.
"Terry's movies are very visual. It all comes through images," she said.
Asked about the push and pull of her relationship with Affleck, she added: "The question that arises is, is there such a thing as free will."
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.
This is underscored by the Affleck character's job testing soil for toxic chemicals on construction sites and Kurylenko's fascination with every aspect of the natural world -- from flocks of birds to budding flowers.
"He's on a creative roll. He's having a very exciting time creatively," Sarah Green from producers Redbud Pictures said of Malick.
"He's really enjoying stretching the boundaries and it's really a delight for us," she said.
The famously reclusive Malick did not attend the premier in Venice. Green said he was working on two new films.