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Days Of Heaven (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)
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Terrence Malick's second film, Days Of Heaven (1978), is an uncommon union of painterly aesthetic and poignant literary depth, the artistic culmination of similar facets of his first feature, Badlands (1973). Here, Malick tenderly returns to his emphasis on characters living on the margins, once again distinguished by another charmingly subjective narrator (Linda Manz). Cinematographer Néstor Almendros shoots the rural-set period piece with an ecstatic eye for the sparse elegance of neoclassical paintings of the early-mid twentieth century, specifically Hopper's "House by the Railroad" (1925) and Wyeth's "Christina's World" (1948). Days Of Heaven also finds Malick actively falling in love with the magic hour in utilizing the setting sun's heavenly burnt oranges and golden yellows to naturally emblazon the wheat fields of the Texas panhandle. At its core, the nostalgic film is a subdued and tragic working-class romance and a love triangle between Bill (Richard Gere), Abby (Brooke Adams), and an ill and heirless farm owner (Sam Shepard). As the reticent, nameless owner becomes infatuated with his seasonal worker Abby in the summer of 1916, Bill, pretending to be her brother, sets his sights on his employer's vast estate, dreaming of the luxurious life that could be theirs. What separates the storytelling from its contemporaries is Malick's focus on the periphery that personifies his landscape in time-lapsed shots of vegetation or close-ups of winged wildlife and agricultural machinery. Linda Manz's laconically colloquial and inquisitive voiceover and sense of wonderment in her travels with Abby and Bill (first seen fleeing a crime scene at a Midwestern steel mill) also flesh out the human landscape. It's the director's particular intention to humbly subvert the stoic male protagonist with an affectionate and confessional soul in Bill. At this screening, the Cinesthesia series will present the film in its most recent restoration on Criterion Blu-ray. —Grant Phipps