Sunday, 12 May 2013

To The Wonder & Cloud Atlas

The mainstream has been fairly weak and specifically wretched on a basic scripting level. To the side of this, the more ambitious, art-house side of medium has delivered real achievements.

To The Wonder is a major achievement. Like Robert Bresson’s later films such as Un Femme Douce and Lancelot De Lac, it has been criticised by many, even its director’s admirers, as a self-parody of an established auteur style. This is unfortunate. It is in fact a major advance for Terrence Malick, is pared and focused, is stronger than either The New World or Tree Of Life.
It’s the story of a romance that floats in and out of commitment and emotional engagement by its lovers, who are a flighty, emotionally fragile French woman and a closed off American engineer. It takes in their initial romance, their early days of living together, their split and the man’s failed romance with another woman, the woman moving home and returning to the man, an affair by the woman, and finally confused commitment to one another by both parties.

The film works on the logic of a silent film. Much of the dialogue is kept to a minimum, nothing important said outside voice-over. The characters are trapped by their inability to express themselves, are inside their limited understanding of the world, possess desires that causes them pain whether embraced or denied. The characters move through space, happy or sad, together or apart, the film felt using essential, pared movements, accumulating through a variety of emotional states.

What is important to the approach is that the emotions are not written into glib dialogue, nor is the story progression shown in segments that suggest an growing artificial understanding of the other. Each of the lovers remains trapped by themselves, each story area informing the next yet they remain apart in soul, allowing the reactions and voice-overs to allow us to understand how the lovers misunderstand one another. The film is about being apart yet somehow in love, yet not understanding the realities and the subtler inflections of these emotions, nor what to do with them. The pace of the film is careful to be tied to the emotions, the pain of the situation, of what is desired but not very well understood. All that is left is confusion. Despite their marriage in the film, the lovers do not truly become a couple until the ending. Even then this is tenuous, has issues that affect a relationship.

The film is about the inexpressible pressures on a soul yet is not expressionistic. It has a relaxed, naturalistic style, which informs the viewer through a scenes pacing, the framing of shots and people in expansive or domestic landscapes, and through the acting, which is superb and pared to the emotional essence of a character. This is a masterpiece, inspired by Murnau and Bresson, but has its own voice and sense of obsession.

Cloud Atlas isn’t on the same scale on achievement. It is an anthology story that is inter-cut rather than played sequentially. Most of its flaws are results of keeping clarity within stories that are being inter-cut, so the film does not become obscure. Therefore its storytelling and themes hit slightly obvious areas at times, there are dialogue issues, and there are segments of the film that stretch beyond the interest point. Yet it’s still a worthy film.

The film jumps between six stories, is focused upon the development of a variety of souls, played by the same actor in each segment, as humanity rises and falls. It is focused upon the personal and societal cul-de-sacs that individuals and a culture possess and are dominated by. They are based in the financial, reputation, scientific dominance, family, sexual and evolution. Most stories deal with one or more of these areas.
The film’s joy is in how the stories inter-cut. These stories are intentionally short story slight in plot but use the other stories to suggest additional weight. They have the pleasures of short stories yet they keep find the layers of how disparate stories, of failed love or rebellion against slavery, have base elements which are integral to how people express themselves from age to age, questioning how much people evolve truly over time. In the film, like To The Wonder, characters are unable to see beyond their personal prisons. In Cloud Atlas, sometimes the characters survive, sometimes they don’t. Humanity moves on, learning or not from the past. The past is finally only stories. I’m unsure if that’s pessimistic or realistic. It is an interesting ambiguous element. Certain souls played by actors seem to develop in a positive fashion while others seem to not change or devolve.

The film was written and directed by The Wachowski’s and Tom Twyker. It’s a terrific achievement by both.

No comments: