Monday, 20 June 2011

The Tree Of Life, Terrence Malick, US 2011

Having not been to the Cannes Film Festival I am of course unable to say anything about all other films in this year's Competition, let alone comment on their quality. However, I can only presume that the members of this year's jury, still in a daze provoked by the ballyhoo surrounding Lars von Trier's press conference that somehow, they ended up awarding the Palme D'Or to Malick's film for reasons I am entirely incapable to comprehend.

The Tree of Life is a film in search of a story, for its narrative can be told in just a few sentences: In 1950's Texas a father, played by Brad Pitt, keeps his sons on a tight leash raising them in a strict manner. Some 40 years down the line, the eldest of the three sons Jack, played by Sean Penn, looks back on his childhood and starts to question - you guessed it! - the meaning of life.

Malick takes nearly three hours to tell this story which apparently is partly autobiographical, filling the gaps with psychedelic images which at times come across as a blend between Jurassic Park and 2001, A Space Odyssey. Others have suggested that Malick's film seems like a Discovery Channel Special, a comparison that is not far off the mark.

While Malick takes great pains to forge a link between the film's actual narrative and its imagery, to me, at least, there is little connection between the two. The incessant stream of psychedelic and Discovery Channel images, employed to visualise Jack's reflection on the meaning of life, come across as hopelessly pretentious and disconnected, and only the consumer of substantial amounts of illegal substances may be able to see the link between the film's - pitifully thin - storyline and the endless succession of images of deserts, waterfalls, rain forests and the like and, more importantly, to perceive these as mesmerizing or in any way relevant to what the film may want to say.

I feel compelled to add here that I am not usually a fan of typical conventional, linear, Hollywood storytelling. On the same token, putting images where the story ought be by making the film twice as long as necessary, doesn't automatically result in art.