The mystery man of serious cinema, Terrence Malick has not spoken in public for decades — and then only to students at the Paris university where he taught in the ’80s. When The Tree of Life, just his fifth feature in a 40-year career, won the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, he was again absent. A philosophy major at Harvard and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Malick might have much to say about his rapturous, delphic movies. But he’s kept mum, so it’s left to his admirers to chart the vectors of Days of Heaven, the director’s second and in many ways most satisfying film. Bill (Richard Gere in his first starring role) and Abby (Brooke Adams) are a couple on the run. Pretending to be brother and sister, they get jobs working for a Texas farmer (playwright Sam Shepard, also in his first major film role) and plan to have Abby marry the farmer, thought to be dying, and profit from his estate. The Malick hallmarks are here: crafty-naive narration from an outsider (Linda Manz, as a teen cohort of the couple), a naturalist’s attention to landscape, a visual poet’s acute observation of all living things, an amazing attention to the symphony of rural sounds. (The film was one of the first to make inventive use of the Dolby system.) The Criterion DVD edition of Days of Heaven has plenty of commentary by Malick admirers. We’ll just say: See it. Watch and listen closely. Attend the dense cinematic tapestry of a mystic master.
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