TO THE WONDER
While travelling in Europe, Neil (Ben Affleck) meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), an Ukrainian divorcée who is raising her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) in Paris. Neil invites her to relocate to his native rural Oklahoma with her daughter. All is well for a while but their relationship cools and Marina finds solace in the company of another exile, the Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. Work pressures and increasing doubt pull Neil further away from Marina, who returns to France with Tatiana. Neil reconnects with old flame Jane (Rachel McAdams), and they fall in love - but then Neil learns that Marina has fallen on hard times...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sometimes reminiscent of music video cutting and editing techniques, Terrence Malik's To The Wonder is an opaque and fragmented work, using insistently romantic music - especially in the first half, mixed with voice over. Or, rather, whisper over, from both Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), sometimes in the present tense, sometimes the past, as if they were speaking at the end of the filmed story. (She speaks to herself in fluent French, even though she is Russian.) All the main characters do this, a sort of confessional process.
In fact, the notion of confession is a symbol of Malik's preoccupation with faith: it is a visit to the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel that Neil is inspired to take Marina to his US home town. Later, there are other religious connections ...
To show us their romance, Malik stitches together what is almost a parody of romantic moments, the sort you might find on postcards or a film of clichees. He does it again when Neil falls in love with old flame Jane (Rachel McAdams).
Like an impressionist painting with suggestive brush strokes rather than precise ones, Malik seems to be enjoying the ethereal possibilities. With its pale colour palette, the film looks like whimsy, but without the humour. The characters move slowly, as if slowed by the weight of their thoughts and emotions. The camera stares at empty rooms and tableaux. It's as if Malik is showing us what it would be like to be a ghostly observer whose presence has slowed down time - and hired an orchestra. Indeed, Malik makes it seem like time slows and stretches ...
And then, after about two thirds of the film, he switches points of view and we're following Fr Quintana (Javier Nardem) into prison and into the slums, where the old and the infirm are strewn about like the domestic rubbish piled in the streets. God is somehow introduced through Fr Quintana, who seems to have doubts about Him.
The evolution of the relationship between Neil and Marina is full of conflict, but it seems to resolve by the end, when the string section weeps its melancholy ode as Malik depletes his store of a wounded view of life. But aside from that sense of melancholy and an enervating sense of confusion, the film has nothing, no meaning, no metaphor and no appeal for me. Maybe it's all the religious references ...
Review by Louise Keller:
There is some glorious imagery in Terrence Malik's elusive and poetic film about love, but this internal observation is far too obtuse and self-indulgent to satisfy even the most romantic. The repetitive nature of the voice-over style in which dialogue is but a backdrop is irritating and much of the film comprises the camera circling and caressing the beautiful features of Olga Kurylenko. As lovely as that may be to watch, the frustrations of a narrative that questions the meaning, validity and longevity of love become all too obvious as Malik's ode evolves.
The film plays out by way of snatches of scenes that articulate feelings, thoughts and emotions of a relationship. Kurylenko's voice is the first one we hear in voice-over, speaking in French as we see the French plane trees, the Cluny Tapestry, the extraordinary vista of Normandy's Mont-Saint Michel and the distinctive monastery, where the words of the title are uttered. Kurylenko and Ben Affleck embrace, look at the sea and the crinkle of the sand as the water laps over it. Love makes us one, she says.
Affleck looks solemn throughout and much of the time we only see parts of his face or body. Malik's focus is Kurylenko, as she smiles, laughs, dances, wanders through fields, playfully cavorts, swims and lies around in her underwear. Oklahoma is the next setting where there is more wandering, dancing, embracing and loving before her visa expires. The presence of her 10 year old daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) is an additional component. The fragility of the relationship is described as love turns to hate or indifference.
While the characters have names, the names are not used in the exposition and Affleck also has a relationship with Rachel McAdams, a girl from his past, who has a ranch. (The scene with the wilder beasts is fabulous.) The camera now shifts to McAdams and we hear her innermost thoughts as she walks through wheat fields whispering 'I can't afford to make mistakes.' Javier Bardem plays a priest who is also searching - seemingly for his own faith. All he sees is destruction and we hear his whispered voice-over asking the unanswerable questions.
Music plays a huge role in Malik's film with powerful use of classical pieces to great effect. Cinematically, the shots are beautifully composed with an accent on striking landscapes centred in the frame through open doors and windows. The scene when the dappled clouds look like pet footprints is extraordinary. But the film is a lengthy, tedious affair - drawn out to the point of nausea with its message of the imponderable nature of love confused.
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TO THE WONDER (M)
CAST: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Tatiana Chiline, Romina Mondello, Tony O'Gans
PRODUCER: Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malik
SCRIPT: Terrence Malik
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki
EDITOR: A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan, Mark Yoshikawa
MUSIC: Hanan Townshend
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jack Fisk
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 4, 2013