Criterion Sunday 409: Days of Heaven (1978)

I’m hardly a Terrence Malick fanboy (at least, not based on his output over the last decade or so) but one or two of his films really get to me, and this is one. You can see a lot of the aspects of his style that he would develop further in his 21st century work — for example, a focus on nature and wind sweeping through grass, or a propensity for the camera to drift off and focus on some still life little image in microcosm rather than dwell on plot or melodrama, as well as a largely unspoken Christian underpinning to the broad sweep of the film and its themes. The Criterion Collection’s previous release was Breathless and, for all the enormous difference in setting and feel (Malick’s film is set in 1916 Texas), there are some genetic similarities to that, like the occasional handheld shots, location shooting with natural lighting, not to mention a plot in which the lead character’s murder of an authority figure is pushed far into the background, and quite often the plot doesn’t even feel that important. Days of Heaven is a film composed of feeling above all: the dappled colours of the ‘golden hour’ (the time of day after the sun has set, and still the most well-known thing about this film, even though there’s plenty that’s shot during the morning and night as well); the poetic voiceover by Linda Manz; and the meandering sense that this isn’t about what happens in the end but about the beauty we’ve witnessed along the way. Luckily this kind of visual cinema is what appeals to me.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • Aside from a commentary, the extras are four short piece split into two headings, “Actors” and “Camera”. For the actors section, there’s an audio interview with Richard Gere and a video one with Sam Shepard, both of whom recall Malick’s methods for eliciting a performance and his shy self-effacing way on set.
  • The “Camera” interviews are with the camera operator John Bailey as well as with Haskell Wexler, who took over from Almendros when the latter had to leave the project to go do a Truffaut film. Legend says that Wexler was miffed at not receiving a full credit, but he concedes in retrospect that he was just continuing the work set in place by Almendros. Either way, what a visual achievement.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Terrence Malick; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz; Length 94 minutes.

Seen at Paramount, Wellington, Thursday 14 May 1998, and at BFI Southbank, London, Sunday 11 September 2011 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, Wellington, Saturday 20 March 2021).

Arbitrage (2012)

First up, “arbitrage”. According to my learned sources, it’s a matter of taking advantage of price differences between markets to turn a profit. Our protagonist Robert Miller is a rich white man (a derivatives trader, or a hedge fund manager, or whatever; my knowledge of the financial world is incredibly meagre). He has all the problems attendant on great wealth. He has to deal with the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars (presumably from said arbitrage), which would jeopardise his company’s sale and make him poorer (though hardly poor in any real terms as experienced by the audiences for this film), his daughter is digging around his dubious accounting practices, and, possibly more importantly — though it’s only a possibility — he has to reconcile himself to the part he played in the death of his mistress (accidental, but still manslaughter). So, he has a lot on his plate.

There are a lot of films with this kind of premise — the fall from grace of a plutocrat. In this film, as in so many, the character played by Richard Gere lives in a gorgeous apartment (though frankly even the poor kid from Harlem has a nice flat) with the best suits, the best art, just all those little touches that make it reek wealth. And there’s no real reason to like or sympathise for this character. And yet Gere manages to make the viewer care — if not actually care whether he loses all his money or not, but perversely to care whether he gets away with the crime of which he’s so manifestly guilty.

So, there’s no real reason for this movie to exist, and whether you see it depends on your tolerance for stories about rich white men and their transgressions. For despite the pedigree of the supporting cast (Susan Sarandon as Miller’s wife, Laetitia Casta as his mistress, Tim Roth as the detective investigating her death, Vanity Fair editor-at-large Graydon Carter’s exemplary head of hair as another trader), this is firmly focused on Gere and all these other actors are merely afforded minor appearances. But the ride itself is well-made and well-played.

Arbitrage film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Nicholas Jarecki; Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux; Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth; Length 107 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 3 March 2013.