Days of Heaven Reviews
After a steelworker named Bill accidentally kills his boss in a fight, he, his wife, Abby, and his daughter, Linda flee to the Texas panhandle where they join a farm and pose as brother and sister to avoid gossip. However, after the farmer falls in love with Abby, that action begins to brew jealousy and trouble.
The editing had a lasting impact on me. Most of the scenes of dialogue are short as they only consist of a few lines between the characters before the movie changes to another scene. Those short scenes of dialogue make the movie feel like it's always in motion. It's a creative way of telling its story, because it commonly feels poetic. It appears to move from one scene to another in a swift fashion that I haven't seen done the same way before. This method of storytelling was not only unique, but it did a great job at engaging me. With that being said, the film is not easily absorbed in one viewing as it's easy to miss certain character motivations if you don't pay full attention to what goes on in the film. The editing in this movie reminded me of the discontinuity editing is Godard's "Breathless". Both films evoked similar feelings in terms of their editing.
All the Malick films I've seen have delivered on their cinematography. This film was no exception. The outdoor shots were breathtaking largely because most of the film was shot during golden hour (the period during sunrise and sunset). The slight redness of the skies not only made the film feel atmospheric, but it also immersed me into the backbreaking work which had to be done around the farm. Despite just looking nice, I also felt like the cinematography showed how insignificant the characters were. I first noticed this when the film would show several people working while the house would be far off in the distance. On top of those shots, there were also many shots of the horizon, wheat stems blowing in the breeze, and close-ups of different insects. I couldn't help, but think that the characters were parts of a larger whole. The contrast between the camera focusing on immense scenes of nature and mixing in character drama by showing short clips near the middle or ends of conversations showed that the protagonists were tiny specks in the vast agricultural setting the film took place in.
On top of that, there are also several great visual set pieces. The most famous of which is the locust swarm. Its arrival is menacing as first, we hear eerie sounds and music followed by a few locusts in a kitchen followed by thousands of locusts in the wheat fields. Like many other critics have pointed out in the past, this scene signals the beginning of the end. Another great scene which I don't feel is brought up enough is when Bill takes Abby out of the bedroom while she's sleeping with the farmer. This is a vital scene as it's the first to reveal Bill's hatred of the farmer's relationship with his wife. What I like about that scene is after the 2 leave, we see a shot of a gazebo the characters stayed in earlier. Only this time, however, the color pallet of that shot is dull and gray, almost like the movie is warning us that the film will only go downhill from there.
Some people complained that the story was too slight. However, I disagree. It may seem like a simple story on the surface. However, there are a few layers of subtlety to the film which make it stick out. I mainly liked the subtle delivery of the character motivations, because, in my opinion, that's the best way a film can utilize subtlety. An important scene in terms of the motivations is how Bill persuading Abby to marry the farmer is lightly touched on. It can be easy to miss the dialogue which reveals that if you're not paying full attention (I missed it on my first viewing). However, once you pick up on that scene, you start to notice several preceding subtle scenes which lead up to it. Once you pick up on that, it becomes impossible to look away from the film. Another subtle scene was how one of Linda's friends leaves the farm only to come back later in the film. Her reappearance is sudden, but necessary. Because of this, I'd say that the story aspect is also well-done. Anyways, what I have to say to the people who criticized the movie for this reason is to try watching it again with what I said in mind, because if you do, you may appreciate the movie more.
In conclusion, I thought this film was superb. On top of the great cinematography, visual set pieces, and subtlety, Malick's decision to make most of the scenes of dialogue short helped to make this film feel poetic and mysterious at times. The funny thing is that I was putting off seeing Malick's older work for quite some time. I honestly don't know why I waited so long. Maybe I didn't think he would top "The Tree of Life" or something. I don't know. However, I'm going to check out "Badlands" soon as this film blew me away.
While the movie was amazing, and I will definitely be watching it again, it felt too short of a movie. It felt like Terrence took a movie that was supposed to be 3 hours long, and condensed it to half of that.
Nonetheless, this movie was beautiful in every sense of the word.
Second watching 19/12/16: Agree with the above.
Hard to put into words this movie's visual beauty. NÚstor Almendros won richly deserved Oscar for his almost overwhelmingly beautiful photography in eloquent story of two farm laborers, a man and his lover, whom he convinces her to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune. Breathtaking to say the least, with many layered meanings and images, nothing short from a master visionary, Terrance Malick, in his finest film to date. Extraordinarily good on every level.