Days Of Heaven (PG)



Drama (1978)
94mins US

Starring: Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams, Linda Manz
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer(s): Terrence Malick
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Bill works in a 1916 steel mill where he kills his boss then flees the scene with girlfriend Abby and younger sister Linda. For the sake of appearances, Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister and the fugitives find work with a kind and gentle farmer. When it transpires that the landowner is dying and has taken a shine to Abby, Bill concocts a scheme to marry off his sweetheart to the farmer so they can inherit the land.

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LondonNet Film Review
Days of Heaven

A prime time for the BFI to rerelease Terrence Malick's 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven, given the uproar surrounding the director's latest picture, the Palme D'or winning Tree of Life. Written and directed by Malick, Days of Heaven is the filmmaker's second work, following the hugely successful cult classic Badlands of 1973. Here we have a director whose output is notoriously low; but when he makes films, he makes mind-blowing films. His aesthetic has a distinctive naivety to it- Malick's cinema feels pure, partly due to his fondness for exterior shots, improvised acting and a manipulation of light that can only be described as sheer artistry. Thematically speaking, with its concern for American history and quintessence, Days of Heaven slots comfortably into Malick's canon. The film also possesses the interesting paradox that seems to lie at the heart of all Malick's work- that is, while utterly engrossing you in the private dramas of his characters, he also conveys a sense of inconsequence, a sense that, in the face of nature, man is miniscule.

The sepia photo montage and eerie musical accompaniment that roll beneath Days of Heaven's opening titles give every indication that the film is set to document the inner-city strife of The Great Depression in early Twentieth-century America. The first sequence co conspires. Here we are introduced to impassioned Chicago factory worker Bill (Richard Gere), as he accidentally kills his foreman in the heat of the moment. However, when Bill, his younger sister Linda (Linda Manz) and his lover Abby (Brooke Adams) flee to find work on the land, the film readjusts its focus, achieving the lyrical romance of any Malick picture. Against a sweeping backdrop of the Texas Panhandle, Malick plays out a narrative of quiet desperation. Driven by poverty, Bill and Abby disguise their relationship as a sister-brother bond in order to marry her off to a wealthy and terminally ill farmer (Sam Shepherd), who conceives of the striking Abby as his personal salvation. The close-knit group enjoy "days of heaven"; Bill, Abby and Linda revelling in unprecedented luxury, the farmer pleased with his newfound company. Yet, when false motives come to the fore, disillusionment and disaster ensue.

Days of Heaven benefits from the whimsical narration of Linda, whose jaded child perspective is evocatively conveyed via her voice over. In her tone lies the sense of detachment that pervades much of the film; characters leaving without so much as a goodbye, drifting and dispersing like the seeds Linda blows from their stem. The film's imagery is as resonant as it's sentiments. From silhouetted figures against the sky at dusk, to extreme close ups of a locust clicking its wings; at risk of sounding cliché, this is poetry in motion. That's not to say it's an easy watch, however. Days of Heaven has all the potential to be a contrived Hollywood blockbuster, under Malick's eye it's anything but. Awkward silences and an often-incongruous score conspire with short takes and abrupt cutting to express a kind of raw fragmentation. Melancholy yet stunning nostalgia. See it on a big screen.

- Amelia Abraham


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