Without a doubt the most anticipated film of the Berlinale, and for some, the most anticipated film of the year, Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups premiered yesterday at the Berlin festival. The reclusive director’s seventh film in 42 years, touched on similar themes as his 2011 (for the most part) critically acclaimed piece, The Tree of Life, such as death, love, and family, unfortunately Knight of Cups never quite reaches the same heady heights.
The film follows comedy screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) after the break down of his marriage to Nancy (Cate Blanchett), and his subsequent relationships with beautiful women to try and get over it. He struggles with the battles of his family, with his father (Brian Dennehey) and hot-headed brother (Wes Bentley) coming to terms with the death of another brother.
There is no discernable narrative to speak off, we follow Rick through a myriad of parties, women, and talks with his brother, all accompanied by the now traditional breathy voiceover. Of course, this is not a new device for Malick, his later films have often been accompanied by abstract images and profound voiceovers, however that in itself is part of the problem. At time Knight of Cups feels like a Malick-parody, ticking all the boxes along the way, such as magic-hour landscape shots, the poetic voiceovers, and the hand floating through the grass (or in Cups instance the air). It feels as though there is nothing fresh, nothing new, sadly, nothing to be told.
With the loose story of a worn-out playboy rexamining his life, there are parallels to be drawn with the equally loose narrative of The Great Beauty, however unlike in Paolo Sorrentino‘s Italian masterpiece, the audience are left feeling nothing for Rick’s journey. There is no character development, and very little dialogue, the audience is left feeling cold and detatched. Malick has ensembled a talented cast here wth the likes of Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, and Antonio Banderas, however they are all seriously under-used. Poots does what she can to create a unique character during her ten minutes or so of screen time, but with little dialogue there is not much for her to play with.
In fact, Malick’s portrayal of women in general in this film is somewhat troubling. Some may argue that he is showing the fickleness of Hollywood, but rarely is an opportunity missed to showcase some flesh. During the course of the film, there are six main women with Rick (not counting the dozens more at parties or in his bed), and they are barely on screen for ten minutes a time.
With that being said, the film certainly feels like a sumptuous dream. As expected, the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, balancing the contemporary LA glass and brick landscape, with the natural beaches and deserts. Visually, the film reflects the notion that LA is an impressive yet empty place, none more-so then through the numerous shots of an empty set of a street on the Warner Bros. lot.
With the dreamy, hypnotic visuals, it is hard not to get swept-away in parts, but with nothing to grasp on to the whole experience feels a little empty. In the press conference following the film, Bale stated that “the nice thing in Terry’s approach is that he didn’t tell us what it is about”, and that is precisely the problem with Knight of Cups.
Drama, Romance | USA, 2014 | 15 | Studiocanal |6th May 2016 (UK) | Dir: Terrence Malick|Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Isabelle Lucas, Imogen Poots,Brian Dennehey, Cate Blanchett, Joel Kinnaman