Days of Heaven ★★★½

As much as I want to love Days of Heaven more (and don't get me wrong, it is arguably the most visually breathtaking film in Malick's catalogue), I can't help but feel the choppiness played out behind the scenes - literal years of editing and postproduction - manifest itself in the pacing. There's an odd mix of in media res sequences coupled with the now-traditional meditative abstract breaks that effectively cause a jerkiness and stuttering in the narrative progression. It doesn't destroy the film by any means, but it adds to my feeling that there is an extraordinary story hidden here, fragmented, glimpsed, but never appropriately focused on due to whatever issues caused such a headache in the editing booth. It's a film of stops and starts, of emotionally inviting characters held at arm's length, of pieces of a perfect film scrambled like a disassembled puzzle; the shape is there, and some folks can obviously mentally construct that perfect film, but at only two viewings, I haven't gotten the complete, uninterrupted picture imagined quite yet.

As stated, it's a visual marvel, though. Filming predominantly in the 'magic hour' - with barely any artificial light, and skyscapes that (perhaps detrimentally) pull the focus away from the characters - adds an incredible authenticity to the thing. Malick inserts the viewer directly into the scene, and the sensory effect can be so overpowering that, at times, one can almost smell the hand-rolled cigarettes and feel the scratch of wheat as the camera gracefully follows and leads the characters on. And while I think Gere leaves (quite) a bit to be desired, Adams and Shepard are the emotional foci and get the closest to drawing me completely into the film with their performances. Although I think Linda Manz' narration borders on head-scratchingly excessive (a necessary by-product of the editing woes), as an actor, she does a fine job - so much that I think I'd have preferred the film entirely from her perspective; not just in the narration, but as a visual POV maintained throughout the picture.

I'm coming to appreciate Days of Heaven more, and though I haven't raised the score since my first watch (my first diary entry on Letterboxd!), it's interesting now to see in context with Malick's other works. The experimental aspects I can respect immensely - if not necessarily embrace completely - and it's worth the 90+ minute run-time just to mentally capture the beautiful images onscreen. A few more viewings, and I might even be comfortable enough with the flow of the film to come and love it completely.

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