Wednesday, April 10, 2013

To the Wonder / À la Merveille

US © 2012 Redbud Pictures, LLC. P: Sarah Green, Nicolas Gonda. D+SC: Terrence Malick. DP: Emmanuel Lubezki - colour - 2,35:1. PD: Jack Fisk. Cost: Jacqueline West. M: a remarkable compilation score of modern and classical music (see listing beyond the jump break). Original M: Hanan Townshend. Supervising Sound Editor: Craig Berkey. ED: A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan, Mark Yoshikawa. 113 min. Original in French, English, Spanish, and Italian. A Nordisk Film press screening of a 2K DCP with English subtitles at Maxim 1, Helsinki, 10 April 2013.

The title of the film refers to  the island of Mont St. Michel, also known as Merveille.

Cast as edited in Wikipedia:
Ben Affleck as Neil
Olga Kurylenko as Marina
Rachel McAdams as Jane
Javier Bardem as Father Quintana
Charles Baker as Charles
Romina Mondello as Anna

Technical specs from the IMDb: - Camera: Arricam LT, Arriflex 235, Panavision Cameras and Anamorphic Lenses, Red One MX, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses - Laboratory: DeLuxe, EFilm (digital intermediate) - Film negative format: 35 mm, 65 mm, Redcode RAW - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Redcode RAW (4.5K) (source format), Super 35 (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm (anamorphic), D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

Synopsis from the production information: "To the Wonder, written and directed by Terrence Malick, is a romantic drama centered on Neil, a man who is torn between two loves: Marina, the European woman who came to United States to be with him, and Jane, the old flame he reconnects with from his hometown. In To the Wonder, Malick explores how love and its many phases and seasons – passion, sympathy, obligation, sorrow, indecision – can transform, destroy, and reinvent lives."

"As To the Wonder opens, Neil and Marina are together on the French island of Mont St. Michel – known in France as The Wonder of the Western World (Merveille de l'Occident) – and invigorated by feelings of being newly in love. Neil, an aspiring writer, has left the United States in search of a better life, leaving behind a string of unhappy affairs."

"Looking into Marina’s eyes as the Abbey looms in the distance, Neil is certain he has finally found the one woman he can love with commitment. He makes a vow to be true to this woman alone."

"Marina, quiet and beautiful, with flashes of a mischievous humor, is divorced and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana. At 16, Marina left the Ukraine for Paris without a cent to her name. There, she married a Frenchman who abandoned her after just two years, leaving her alone with Tatiana in a studio apartment. Marina was forced to work a variety of temporary jobs to make her way. Having nearly given up hope, Marina is overcome with joy to be in love with Neil, her salvation from an unhappy future."

"Two years later, Neil and Marina are living in a small town in Oklahoma, close to where Neil grew up. Neil, having given up his hopes of becoming a writer, has taken a job as an environmental inspector. Neil is happy with his work, but his love for Marina cools as she, for her part, is frustrated by the holding pattern she feels she is in with Neil. She fears her youth – and happiness – are slipping away. In spite of her anxieties about Neil, Marina initially feels at home in Oklahoma, embraced by the open space and sky, and soothed by the sounds that come from the wind harp that animates breezes into songs."

"Seeking advice, Marina turns to another exile in the community, a Catholic priest named Quintana. We learn that Father Quintana has come to grapple with his own dilemmas, as he harbors doubts about his vocation. He no longer feels the ardor he knew in the first days of his faith, and wonders if he ever will again."

"Professional life throws Neil into conflict as well, when he discovers that a smelting operation in town is polluting the soil and water and threatening the health of future generations. His concerns fail to persuade his neighbors, who depend on the smelter for their livelihoods. Under pressure to keep quiet, Neil must once again weigh the consequences of his actions."

"Neil's doubts about Marina intensify. This, coupled with the fact that Marina’s visa is soon to expire, leads her to return to France with her daughter. In her absence, Neil reconnects with Jane, an old friend. As the two of them fall deeply in love, Neil finds this new relationship far less complicated. Yet when word comes to him that Marina has fallen on hard times and her daughter has gone to live with her father and refuses to have anything more to do with her, he finds himself gripped by a sense of responsibility for her wellbeing, and arranges for her return to the United States."

"Neil’s entanglements with the two women in his life, and Father Quintana’s struggle with his faith, force them both to consider different kinds of love. Should the commitment they each made be undertaken as a duty, sometimes full of effort? Or should we accept that love often changes, and doesn’t always last? Can sorrow bind lovers more tightly than joy?"

From "About the production" in the production information: "The film presents to the audience something more than a story; a journey that conveys the emotional and spiritual depth of its characters as they change and grow. In To the Wonder, he urged his cast and crew to embrace spontaneity and remain open to improvisation. The actors who make up To the Wonder's stellar cast researched the hidden emotional lives of their characters in order to render them with even greater depth and authenticity."

The filmmakers chose the town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to provide the main backdrop for this story of love, longing and spiritual questioning. Much of the town's character remains intact thanks to the largely preserved buildings erected in the early 20th century, including the famous Price Tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 . “Terry is a philosopher, so a lot of his imagery has to do with his ideas, and I think he found something important in the starkness of those homes,” says Academy Award nominated production designer Jack Fisk.

"The city became a character in the story," explains producer Nick Gonda. "Through the hospitality of the people of Bartlesville, Terry was able to interact with his surroundings much like he works with actors, letting its inherent qualities emerge. As a result of that, we were able to work in the way that Terry has dreamt of working for many, many years.

Beyond the town's limits, the open spaces and natural beauty of the American West act as a reminder of the rhythms and cycles amid which our human struggles and aspirations may appear only as mere details on a vast canvas. “The color palette is just great,” says John Patterson, location manager, of the Oklahoma countryside. “It almost seems like it’s made for this film. It’s made up of browns and yellows and beautiful sky and the clear open spaces.

The small town feel in Oklahoma is intensified by the contrasting Old World (and otherworldly) setting on Mont St. Michel, an island off the coast of Normandy, France. As the story opens, Neil and Marina are at the height of their romance, basking in the sun on a beautiful, rocky beach on Mont St. Michel, which is known in France as the Merveille, or "Wonder.

Merveille, a top destination of pilgrims and tourists, is best known for its abbey and cloisters. Monks have lived on the island in search of solitude since the sixth century. The dramatic cloisters that rise up to the sky suggest a place somewhere between heaven and earth, reality and fantasy—an apt place to begin Marina and Neil’s story.

“You can love some people more than others, and the ones that you love more, maybe you can't live with them,” says Olga Kurylenko, who plays the role of Neil's conflicted love, Marina.

To the Wonder also required some cast members to transcend their usual acting methods by blurring fiction and reality. Javier Bardem plays a priest who is struggling to live up to the high expectations of his own commitment. To prepare him, Malick teamed him with respected photojournalist Eugene Richards to talk with prisoners, actual priests and Bartlesville residents, some of whom shared troubling life stories."

A new film by Terrence Malick is always an event, and in To the Wonder Malick is at his most ambitious. Despite the characterization "romantic drama" in the production information, To the Wonder is not a drama: this work of fiction is not narrative-driven, nor is it character-driven. The human figures are not depicted as well-rounded characters; they remain enigmatic presences. Critics have even compared them with Bressonian "models", but the difference here is, of course, that the actors are famous stars whereas Bresson engaged non-professionals.

So what is To the Wonder, then? Romantic it is, and perhaps it is a work of Wagner-inspired poetry, about love and transcendence. Classical and modern* music swells grandly during the entire picture, bringing inspiring spiritual dimensions to the imagery. (* Einojuhani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus features prominently.)

Most of all To the Wonder is image-driven. It is a work of visionary poetry, to be compared with metaphysical and symbolistic landscape painters. It is a meditative experience.

Having recently seen the new film by Matti Ijäs Kaikella rakkaudella I was struck by certain affinities and differences in the feeling for the landscape in the two movies.

Nick Pinkerton writes in Sight & Sound: "But Malick’s magic-hour photography, again by two-time DP Emmanuel Lubezki, in which the elusive sun is forever just peering over a rise in the distance or visible through a knot in a fence, isn’t just some fall-back pictorialist cliché; it’s the manifestation of Malick’s deeply personal conviction, shared with J.M.W. Turner, that the sun is God."

A Matti Ijäs trademark is filming in the evening, when the darkness starts to embrace the light. Another trademark of his is a fondness for autumn light. These are dynamic circumstances of light; things start to look different.

Remarks I jotted down during the screening: - Subjective, experimental, lyrical - A regaining of sensitivity - The power of perception - Powerful imagery, also in the winter - A strategy of disorientation in the sound and the image - The actors do not seem completely at ease as playful lovers - Towards the end there is a feeling of ennui - Perhaps a sense of compelling poetic unity is not fully achieved? - This is a film I would have wanted to like more

The Romanticism is balanced by Realism, embodied in the figure of the priest played by Javier Bardem. Quoting Nick Pinkerton again: "While castigating his flock from the pulpit in his sermons – “To choose is to commit yourself, and to commit yourself is to run the risk of failure” – the priest is trying to shore up his own belief. Far from the planned community of tract houses where Neil and Marina live, he goes down among the wretched parishioners in the town (Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which goes unnamed on screen, as do the dramatis personae)." - "The priest visits prison yards and hospitals and meth-devastated white ghettoes with toys heaped on the front porches of tumbledown shacks, finding wrecked humans eager to receive Christ’s succour. Belief is, however, more difficult for formidable men like himself and Neil, whom he advises: “You have to struggle with your own strength.”"

Emmanuel Lubetzki has accomplished his wonderful cinematography mostly with 35 mm and 65 mm cameras, and the digital intermediate has been performed very well. Digitally shot inserts convey an obviously different sensibility.

Warmly recommended:

Nick Pinkerton in Sight & Sound (March 2013)

Roger Ebert's last film review (published on 6 April 2013)


“Harold in Italy, Op. 16, II.”
Composed by Hector Berlioz
Performed by The San Diego Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Yoav Talmi
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

“Parsifal: Prelude to Act One”
Composed by Richard Wagner
Performed by The Mariinsky Orchestra
conducted by Valery Gergiev
Courtesy of the Mariinsky Label

“Parsifal: Prelude to Act One”
Composed by Richard Wagner
Performed by Hanan Townshend

“Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), H0B.XXI;3"
Composed by Franz Joseph Haydn
Performed by Mozarteum Orchestra
conducted by Ivor Bolton
Courtesy of Oehms Classics
By arrangement with Source/Q

"Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 2, P.138"
Composed by Ottorino Respighi
Performed by Ireland National Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Rico Saccani
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

“The Medusa Song”
Written and Performed by Tatiana Chiline
Courtesy of Tatiana Chiline

“June (Barcarolle)”
Performed by Morton Gould at The Piano
Arranged and Conducted by Morton Gould
Composed by Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
Courtesy of Sony Classical
By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Remastered by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio

“So Go”
Written by Lauren Marie Mikus
Performed by Lauren Marie Mikus and Hanan Townshend
Courtesy of Lauren Marie Mikus

“Ou tu t’endors”
Written by Michael Tuccio
Performed by Ishtar Alabina
Courtesy of Ascot Music

“Bartlesville Fight Song”
Performed by the Bartlesville High School Band

“Symphony No. 9 in E Minor ‘From the New World’, Op. 95”
Composed by Antonin Dvorak
Performed by the Bartlesville High School Band

“Miss Mary Mack”

"Lahaul Valley"
Composed and Performed by David Parsons
Courtesy of Celestial Harmonies

“Cosmic Beam Take 5”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Written and Performed by Thee Oh Sees
Courtesy of Thee Oh Sees

"Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ - II. Lento Cantabile Semplice"
Composed by Henryk Gorecki
Performed by Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Antoni Wit
Courtesy of Naxos
By Arrangement with Source/Q

“The Little Grey Wolf”
Performed by Olga Kurylenko

“Unto Us A Child Is Born; Alleluia (From Christmas Cantata No. 142)”
Written by J.S. Bach
Performed by Hanan Townshend

“Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61, ‘Concerto for Birds and Orchestra’: III. Joutsenet muuttavat (Swans Migrating)”
Composed by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Performed by Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Courtesy of Naxos
By Arrangement with Source/Q

“Fratres for Eight Cellos”
Composed by Arvo Part
Performed by Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
conducted by Tamas Benedek
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

"Les Saisons (The Seasons), Op. 37b-June:Barcarolle"
Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performed by llona Pruyni
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

“Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102”
Composed by Dmitry Shostakovich
Performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Christopher Lyndon-Gee
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

“Now Now”
Written by Anne Clark
Performed by St. Vincent
Courtesy of Beggars Banquet
By arrangement with Beggars Group Media Limited

“Cosmic Beam Drone # 1”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica
Courtesy of Wonderment Music

“Cosmic Beam Take 1”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

"The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29"
Composed by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Enrique Batiz
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

“Troops Advance”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“Prophecy of the Village Kremna”
Written and Performed by Arsenije Jovanovic
Courtesy of Arsenije Jovanovic

“Cosmic Beam Take 5”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“McKron Freaks”
Written and Performed by Francesco Lupica and Lee Scott
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

"Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ - III. Lento - Sostenuto Tranquillo Ma Cantabile"
Composed by Henryk Gorecki
Performed by Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Antoni Wit
Courtesy of Naxos
By Arrangement with Source/Q

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