It’s a film that generates split opinions, but one thing that’s undeniable is its remarkable aesthetic qualities, that made it the winner of the 2011 Palme d’Or. After the success of The Thin Red Line, or Days of Heaven (that we will surely do an article on), Terrence Malick is back with this family drama set in the American suburbs of the 1950s, where the story is almost anecdotal as its narration takes a purely contemplative and metaphysical form.
Traveling between images of the infinitely small and intimate, to the infinitely large and heavenly, the film confronts the human smallness to the force of nature. No wonder Malick relied on the talent and expertise of Douglas Trumbull – known for the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey- to produce these images from space and the genesis of Universe. They added special effects in the service of emotions, without yielding to exhibitionism through costly techniques which Hollywood usually abuses from.
The Tree of Life shows a poetic evocation of childhood and memory. Thus, floating camera movements, lens selection, cons-immersed, stealth and cut plans work as reminders of mental images and fuzzy memories. With DOP Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity, Children of Men…), they use the cinematography to capture emotion rather than action, making the movie very experiential, triggering memories, like a scent or a perfume.
Their collaboration led them to sketch out a set of rules that, over time, evolved into what the crew called “the dogma.” One of them, and you really can feel it in Malick’s cinema, is using natural light much as possible. Lubezki testifies: “When you put someone in front of a window, you’re getting the reflection from the blue sky and the clouds and the sun bouncing on the grass and in the room. You’re getting all these colors and a different quality of light. It’s very hard to go back to artificial light in the same movie. It’s like you’re setting a tone, and artificial light feels weird and awkward [after that].”
Terrence Malick might have lost himself in this very ambitious movie, but the result is that each of these screenshots are as powerful as paintings. Enjoy!