Song to Song

 

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Terrence Malick continues to go his own way and will only please the converted.

 
Song to Song

Rooney Mara

 
There are no surprises here. Song to Song is the latest work from Terrence Malick who still attracts distinguished players even though what we have here is very much a companion piece to 2015's Knight of Cups which was widely regarded as a fiasco. Like that film, it is photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki and it looks magnificent, but Malick as writer/director is now making films that are sufficiently avant-garde to belong not to the mainstream but to arthouse cinema, and they are an acquired taste at that. Malick was an auteur from the beginning, but these days he is certainly not everybody's auteur.

 

Song to Song filmed in Austin, Texas against the background of a music festival certainly contains a discernible plot. It's one that centres on a young woman with singing ambitions, Faye played by Rooney Mara, who falls for a songwriter, BV (Ryan Gosling), but is also involved with a record producer, Cook (Michael Fassbender), who can further her career. However, Faye's situation is presented not so much as a conflict between love and ambition in the manner of La La Land but as a quest for meaning in life. That is Faye's focus, but at the same time she is somebody who believes that any experience is better than no experience. Even so, she is fearful of being herself in case there is no one there.

 

Such a set-up could yield a conventional film, but Malick retains the device he used in Knight of Cups whereby characters speak their thoughts on the soundtrack while actual dialogue is played down. Last time the words dominated whereas here there is more of a balance with the images. Nevertheless, both in the flow of the film as a whole and in the editing of individual scenes conventional storytelling is largely abandoned. This approach results in a stylised fragmentation that makes Malick's work seem somewhat European in character with both Antonioni and Godard coming to mind at certain points.

 

The narrative goes beyond the people mentioned above to include other lovers (there's even a lesbian aspect)  and the impression is of characters who will find that materialism is inadequate for their needs and that  something else, be it connected with nature or with religion, is needed. Consequently, with the viewpoint mattering more than the individuality of those whose story is being told, it seems fair enough to see them as being there to express Malick's ideas rather than to take on lives of their own. That may serve to explain why, save in the cast list at the end, they are rarely referred to by name. This doesn't help the clarity of the narrative and the film, shorter by hours than the footage actually shot, becomes increasingly obscure and dreamlike (some scenes may be memories or hopes or the real thing, but by that time I felt too confused to care). There's an interesting and wide-ranging use of music on the soundtrack but, despite the film's positive qualities, the demands made on the viewer become increasingly wearing. Ultimately, while Song to Song is unlikely to disappoint those who have liked Malick's other recent work, this is a film that will exasperate many.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, Bérénice Marlohe, Lykke Li, Linda Edmond, Tom Sturridge, Brady Coleman, Florence Welch, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Flea, Anthony Kiedis.

 

Dir Terrence Malick, Pro Nicolas Gonda, Ken Kao and Sarah Green, Screenplay Terrence Malick, Ph Emmanuel Lubezki, Pro Des Jack Fisk, Ed Rehman Nizar Ali, Hank Corwin and Keith Fraase, Costumes Jacqueline West.

 

Buckeye Pictures/FilmNation Entertainment/Waypoint Entertainment-StudioCanal.
129 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 7 July 2017. Cert. 15.