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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.58%
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Just Average: 31.58%
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3 reviews, 1 rating

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Knight of Cups
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by alejandroariera

"‘Cause I’m a wanderer…I roam around, around, around, around"
3 stars

The best thing I can say about Terence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” is that it is the first film of his that didn’t put me to sleep. The second best thing I can say about it is that, stripped of its pretentious stream-of-consciousness voice-overs and spare dialogue, “Knight of Cups” is a beautiful, almost moving, avant-garde film about…what, exactly? Memory? Women as these unattainable, elusive, wispy creatures? Sibling rivalry? Our need for connection? White man angst? All of the above? Am still trying to figure it out but, darn it, it sure as hell offers a unique sensorial experience.

First, a warning. Don’t be fooled by the A-list cast. This is not your standard studio narrative. Hell, there is NO story. Malick has been drifting further and further away from classical narrative convention since “The Tree of Life.” Think of “Knight of Cups” as a dreamlike rumination, a very personal essay disguised as fiction. It’s structured around chapters named after tarot cards, each card alluding to a specific character Rick, the film’s protagonist played by Christian Bale, meets in this journey (or may have met in the past).

All we know about Rick, given the milieu he wanders around in (and there is a lot of wandering and meandering in “Knight of Cups”), is that he is somehow involved in the movie industry. He’s identified as a writer by the film’s production notes, but other than fleeting scenes involving meetings and discussions with studio executives and other filmmakers, what Rick actually does is completely irrelevant as far as Malick is concerned. Rick is a man who has lost his way, who has become disenchanted with his life and maybe his career, a man who is looking for some sort of connection. “Knight of Cups” is also deliberately atemporal: what we see on the screen could have taken place in the present or the past or it could be a hint of the future (Bale’s beard is shown in different stages of growth throughout as a visual cue, although not necessarily in sequential order.) Time is also irrelevant.

And so the camera follows Rick from a Californian beach to mansions where Hollywood’s best and not necessarily brightest meet and party (the film features a plethora of industry cameos) to empty studio lots to antiseptic glass building to skid row and on to Los Angeles’ many highways and byways with a brief stop in Las Vegas. We meet his aggressive, destructive brother (Wes Bentley) who lives alone in an abandoned building and who connects by punching and breaking things. We meet his father (Brian Dennehy) who works equally alone in an equally abandoned office building.

We are also introduced to the six women Rick had flings or serious relationships with: his physician ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), a model (Frieda Pinto, barely registering on-screen), the rather punkish Della (Imogen Poots), an Australian stripper he meets in Vegas (Teresa Palmer), a woman he may have impregnated (Natalie Portman) and current fling Isabel (Isabel Lucas, another female presence that barely registers on-screen). They are not the only women we see Rick with: his rootless meandering and womanizing leads him into the arms of many other anonymous women, some of whom spend their on-screen time naked, their bodies photographed with the same beatific sense of wonder as the Californian deserts Malick (and Rick) returns to again and again. Meanwhile, the actors are asked to spout such platitudes as “All those years of living the life of someone I didn’t know,” “No one cares about reality anymore,” “The soul remembers the beauty it used to know in heaven” and “To suffer binds you to something higher” in whispery voice-overs. Curiously, these are characters that seem to live free of the digital distractions that are the currency of our lives. Rarely do they whip out a smart phone or a tablet, they never tweet or text or actually make a phone call. In their search for connection, they seemed to have left their gadgets at home.

“Knight of Cups” is a movie in perpetual motion. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera tracks in and out of landscapes, rooms and objects; it follows the characters or tracks alongside them. And even when Lubezki traps them within the frame, there is still movement, as the characters move from one end of the frame to the other, as if they are seeking to escape its confines. The editing by Geoffrey Richman, Keith Fraase and A.J. Edwards add to this sense of perpetual motion, enhancing the camera’s graceful movements. It amplifies Malick’s obsession with seeking and capturing beauty regardless of where the camera is placed or who is standing in front of it. Add Hanan Townsend’s original score and Malick’s careful selection of classical and experimental compositions and you end up with a film that is well-nigh irresistible were it not for its characters’ high school-level existential musings. “Knight of Cups” washes over you, seduces you, and caresses you like those waves constantly crashing on California’s shores.

Who knows? Maybe this is where Malick’s filmography is headed: towards a sensorial, abstract, plot-free (and hopefully dialogue-free) experience, one that allows its audience to immerse itself in the world that surrounds them, sans distractions. If that is the case, I am more than willing to reconcile my differences with, and even embrace, Malick’s work. Maybe.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28353&reviewer=434
originally posted: 03/10/16 11:49:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Berlin Film Festival For more in the 2015 Berlin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/05/16 Lucia The film was quite visually striking. I was surprised with the mixed reviews it received. 4 stars
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