47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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Terrence Malick, USA, 1978, 95 minutes
Malick's preference for strong visual detail and a haunting and insistent score coupled with his subdued and idiosyncratic chara& terisation create something of a special film, not least for its subject matter and Malick's way of dealing with his extraordinary material.
Bill (Richard Gere), a peripatetic labourer, flees into the headland of America with his young sister and girl-friend, Abby, after Bill has killed his foreman in a factory in the city. They find work in a farm owned by a young invalid farmer. The farmer falls in love with Abby and Bill pretends they are brother and sister so that she will marry the farmer and they will inherit his property on his death. However Abby starts to fall in love with the farmer and Bill leaves. He returns later and the farmer realises what is going on, and the ensuing conflict between the two men gives rise to a plague of locusts upsetting the previously idyllic peace, followed by raging fires which destroy the land around.
Days of Heaven is a story strongly reliant on biblical and mythological tradition. Malick concentrates on creating significant counterpoint between the peace and the upheaval, Bill and the farmer, by comb;ning long-shots and close-ups, and also puts heavy emphasis on the context of Nature and the surroundings within the story, regularly framing his protagonists with the expansive cornfields or dramatic skies. His defiance of Hollywood convention is shown through his use of hand-held camera, obviously improvised scenes, the often unnatural feel of scenes produced by elliptical editing, an often inaudible soundtrack and the unconnnected colloquial narrrtion by the disinterested Linda, Bill's younger sister (narration style similar to Sissy Spacek in Badlands).
The film results in an astounding treatment of myth. Malick is ably served by his cinematographer Nestor Almendros (assisted by Haskell Wexler), who creates some truly mesmerisingly beautiful cinema, and by Ennio Morricone's cogent score, including the haunting adaptation of Saint-Saeans.
Days of Heaven doubles with Miller's Crossing: both films represent perhaps the most significant crossovers between mainstream and Arthouse in American cinema.
Review by Mark Radice
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95