The Tree of Life
Direction: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain
Winner of the top prize at the 2011 Cannes film festival, The Tree of Life is only the fifth feature in 38 years from Terrence Malick. The maverick writer-director applies the creative energy of his previous films (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World) to this one-of-a-kind odyssey that we are not likely to forget anytime soon.
Be warned, though. The film's elliptical structure, languorous pace and quasi-spiritual musings might alienate many viewers. However, there's no denying the entrancing lyricism with which it's staged.
Right away, we are introduced to a middle-aged couple (Pitt-Chastain, both brilliant) attempting to cope with the death of one of their three sons.
Elements of magic realism are occasionally interwoven, as are meditations on life's eternal mysteries.
Characteristically, too, there are multiple whispered voiceovers. An interlude that charts the creation of the cosmos invokes such visionary filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick (particularly 2001:A Space Odyssey) and Werner Herzog.
Next: millions of years are elided by a single jump cut. We're back in the Eden-like vistas of Texas, circa the 1950s.
Now an architect, the eldest son (portrayed as a pre-adolescent by newcomer Hunter McCracken and as an adult by Sean Penn) recollects his childhood and the troubled relationship with his domineering father.
Much is left unsaid and not much happens in the way of dramatic conflict. Malick's feeling for the natural world and his constant preoccupation about the loss of innocence is in full evidence.
Teaming with Malick for the second time following The New World (2005), Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki imbues the film with an ecstatic aura.
The all-too-symbolic climactic scene on the beach is nevertheless quite heartfelt.
By the way, one of the invitees to the press preview wore a tee-shirt proclaiming "Sub Ka Malek, Terrence Malick". Touché!