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Bill and Abby, a young couple who to the outside world pretend to be brother and sister are living and working in Chicago at the beginning of the century. They want to escape the poverty and hard labor of the city and travel south. Together with the girl Linda (who acts as the narrator in the movie) they find employment on a farm in the Texas panhandle. When the harvest is over the young, rich and handsome farmer invites them to stay because he has fallen in love with Abby. When Bill and Abby discover that the farmer is seriously ill and has only got a year left to live they decide that Abby will accept his wedding proposal in order to make some benefit out of the situation. When the expected death fails to come, jealousy and impatience are slowly setting in and accidents become eventually inevitable. Written by
Theo de Grood <email@example.com>
Days of Heaven is, in fact, what its highest praisers want you to believe: awe-inspiring cinema, sometimes even mind-blowing in what can be filmed and brought forth in a beautiful, seamless mold of narrative and poetry, photographed with an eye for the prairie and fields like very few others and for the period detail. But it's also wonderful- and haunting- because it evokes what it is to look back on something and remember things vividly, clearly, with a subjectivity that is startling in its scarred interior. This is child-actor Linda Manz, her first role in what is a relatively small career, and she voices, in grungy but fine vocal, from afar at times even as she's one of the principle players.
She's the kid sister of Bill (Richard Gere, a very good if not extraordinary performance compared to others), a factory worker who kills a man by accident and runs off with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), and the three of them end up working for a farmer (Sam Shephard), and soon there's a love triangle formed wrapped around an elaborate con of Bill and Abby being brother and sister. These are just the facts, but director Terence Malick isn't after just those, but after a sad look back from a perspective of wonderment and horror and a kind of fractured innocence. It goes without saying that since it is a Malick picture one will expect the painterly landscapes of the fields, those intimate close-ups with bugs and waving fields of grass. But Malick is able to put a unique vision into the perspective of that of a little girl, who is seeing and experiencing everything as it is, not as it may be really imagined or wanting to be.
So there's a lot of interest already just in the nature of the farming on this panhandle in early 20th century. But there's just little things, little fantastic bits that stick in your mind, probably forever: the workers in the field toiling away; the black man tap-dancing by the barn; the airplane circus people coming by and showing silent films. Most notably, as well, are near biblical visions like the plague (and extinguishing by lots of fire) of locusts. And through all of the many, many beautiful shots, there's a tender and perfectly tragic love story played out with great work by Adams and a young Shepherd. Manz too, I might add, is excellent in a role that could have been mucked up by anyone else (also trumping a later future first-time performance in Malick's own The New World with the woman playing Pocahontas).
And as if the crisp eye of Malick and his DPs Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler weren't enough, there's Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack to boot. Here's a crucial part of Malick's success in translating the theme of remembrance and feeling both the moment and the mood of the whole period and characters in the film (sometimes combined): just listen to the theme of the movie, used later in movie trailers and commercials, as it reckons a nostalgic tinge for something that one can't firmly grasp but is felt deeply and without really fully knowing the whole scope. Overall, Days of Heaven is almost too good, too beautiful- it's the kind of picture that defines reputations, for better or worse. Like Malick's. A+
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