To The Wonder, Terrence Malick’s impressionistic take on love and religion, was met with a mix of bravos and boos at the end of this morning’s first screening in Venice. Applause was hearty in my section of the Sala Darsena, but people I ran into outside were struggling with the almost all-voice-over competition entry that is “the least narrative” of Malick’s movies. Ben Affleck appears in most of To The Wonder, but he probably has less than 10 lines, an occupational hazard that goes along with working on a Malick picture. Rachel McAdams seems to have suffered the same fate, showing up about a third of the way through for a brief thread that involves Affleck’s character – or “prop,” as one person put it to me. Last week, I reported that Malick left Rachel Weisz, Barry Pepper, Amanda Peet and Michael Sheen on the cutting room floor.
Malick’s last picture, Tree Of Life, certainly had its fans and detractors, but people I spoke to today felt that film had “more of a story” and “real characters.” I’ve confirmed that some footage from Tree Of Life was used in To The Wonder: the footage is “imagery that was licensed” for Tree Of Life and that what is used in To The Wonder is “less than 10 seconds”. (Fox is thanked in the credits for the footage.) Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot both. At least one film connoisseur told me they truly enjoyed To The Wonder because images of wheatfields, trees and water abound and the classical music had a “lovely effect of floating you away”.
Olga Kurylenko is Wonder‘s central character who sets the scene talking about love in voice over as she and Affleck wander through Paris and on to Mont St. Michel – the “Wonder” of the title. But the voice over isn’t used solely to set the scene, it’s almost the only dialogue device Malick uses throughout. Javier Bardem plays a disillusioned priest in the Midwest town where Kurylenko and Affleck’s characters set up house. A house that never has a lot of furniture, but a fair bit of frolicking and fighting. McAdams is a woman struggling after the loss of a child with whom Affleck takes up briefly. The storylines of the four characters are only vaguely intertwined. The film often employs circles and moving objects spinning in rounds – including ferris wheels and a rollercoaster – for symbolism. But, after the screening, people were talking about the constant twirling that Kurylenko’s character engages in. She almost never stops moving – leading folks to wonder if she wasn’t dizzy for half the shoot.