FNE at Berlinale 2015: Competition: Knight of Cups


    BERLIN: Much admired and for many years silent director Terrence Malick seems to be making up for all those years of absence from filmmaking by directing a constant string of ever more mystifying films.

    Malick’s seventh film Knight of Cups screens in competition in Berlin with a title based on the name of the tarot card. But just like in tarot the Knight of Cups can have many meanings and Malick has not given the viewer any clear and easy answers.

    Malik’s work is nothing if not ambitious and when he succeeds like with his monumental achievement The Tree of Life that examines the meaning of life his work is truly profound. But when he misses the mark as he did with his last film To The Wonder he truly plunges into a creative wasteland.

    With Knight of Cups Malik manages to land somewhere in between. While missing the rarified heights of Tree of Life the story is nonetheless poetic and impressionist while at the same time with a storyline that is more accessible than Malik at his most abstract.

    Rick played by Christian Bale is a successful Hollywood comedy writer. But he is overcome with disillusionment and boredom and his creative spirit has gone dry after endless exposure to the corruption and moral bankruptcy of Hollywood. Rick flakes his boredom by having sex with beautiful girls and walking on the beach.

    Malik draws his characters with visual images and music rather than conventional dialogues and we hear Rick’s thoughts in voiceovers and that tend to free association. He has filmed the cold, hard and heartless metal architecture and skyscrapers of modern day Los Angeles and contrasted it with the beauty of nature mainly the beach and the ocean. All of this is flooded with music that sometimes overwhelms the action. When Rick visits studio backlots or speeds down the highway in his flashy car it is rhythmic driving music but when he is pulled to nature or the better things in life we hear Chopin, Grieg or Debussy.

    This is a struggle of Rick’s soul and Malik paints a visual portrait of his main character thorough images and the other characters he encounters as archetypes who represent different principles in life. Malik introduces each new character with a different tarot card which helps us to understand and at the same time mystifies.

    First there is the relationship between Rick and his father. Despite his son’s success there is the feeling that his son has lost his way in the world. The women in Rick’s life represent beauty and sensuality and also the real world.

    Cate Blanchett plays Rick’s ex-wife, who appears in a flashback. She is a hard-working doctor who becomes disenchanted with her restless and ungrounded husband. Natalie Portman plays Elizabeth, a married woman who has an affair with Rick and becomes pregnant by him. Throughout the film many different beautiful women drift through Rick’s life which is full of sex but lack fulfillment.

    Malik is a truly spiritual artist and his examination of Hollywood and the cold emptiness that its glamourous lifestyle results in has a lot to say about his own career as a filmmaker outside of Hollywood.

    Director: Terrence Malick

    Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman