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I've come to the realization that I do not care much for pre-1960s films- American in particular. This unfortunately leaves a very defined black mark on my knowledge of film. Some would call this close-mindedness, but I prefer to call it honesty.
So as of late, I've been sticking to multiple viewings of films I love. I find it an equal, if not a more satisfying experience--the beauty you can find in a film if you look hard enough; the gratification of unfolding new layers and discovering new depths you never knew existed, resonates as pure emotion. It's a truly unique affect.
Knight of Cups (2015)
When we go into a Terrence Malick film, we generally know what we're in for: a spiritual journey into Man's soul through unconventional, yet beautiful cinematic means. Malick's films are mostly unscripted and plot less, instead using nature to assist them iin creating a narrative by use of both visceral and symbolic imagery. And like Werner Herzog, there seems to be an almost divine force on their side.
Then there's Knight of Cups: A cinematic farce masquerading as profundity; an excruciating exercise in self indulgent banality. I couldn't believe what was unfolding before me. It was just empty--Lubezki's cinematography, the voice over, the character's-- just empty. A borderline Malick parody. It was almost as if the film was made by a machine, or perhaps some sort of alien being attempting to recreate human emotion. I literally felt nothing while watching it.
The only justifiable reasoning I can fathom on how Malick directed this film, is if he was trying to give the audience a hands on experience of the superficiality and mundanity of the protagonist's life. If this is the case, then I suppose the film is technically a success. If you can call that a success. I'd say the filming of paint drying would be an equally effective treatment of the subject.
United 93 (2006)
How can a film so void of artistry be so effective? This is the question that lurked in my mind throughout United 93. The answer is simple: it's effective the same way watching news footage of the the planes striking the Twin Towers is effective--it confides in the sheer importance, and the Horrifying nature of these events. It's something real, something profound. But is that truly enough? Paul Greengrass thinks so.
So, what is the difference between this film and, say, Faces of Death? Well, that's a tough question. Both rely on the pretense that you're watching a horrific act unfold in real time in front of your eyes; neither film has any substance or characterization, nor do they pretend to. So, why is one critically praised and the other deemed pseudo- snuff? I honestly cannot answer that. I do not know.
Another film in the hyper-realism, docudrama genre is Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant', a film I've rated a 10 here on IMDb. The two are very similar in their approach. But what separates these two films is artistry. 'Elephant' is a film fluid in symbolism and meaning, 'United 93' is a film fluid in heedless chaos.
Nonetheless, 'United 93' is an intense and harrowing thriller despite it's ultimate empty- headedness. A film everyone should see once.