A companion piece to last year's divisive Knight of Cups, legendary director Terrence Malick's latest film is a lyrical odyssey of love through the unforgiving landscape of the modern music scene. Featuring a blissful quartet of performances, Emanuel Lubezski's resplendent cinematography, and Malick's unique experimental presentation, Song to Song is a sexually charged celebration of the power of companionship and a musical parable about the dangers of hedonistic overindulgence.
BV and Faye are euphoric lovers and struggling musicians in the ethereal world of Austin's music community. Floating between sold out venues and extravagant getaways, secrets and temptation force the couple to examine the price of their dreams and the evolution of their partnership as they come to terms with the realities of adulthood and the coldness of betrayal. Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara star with a pair of emotionally raw performances. Not since Half Nelson and Drive has Gosling's restraint been used so effectively. Dramatic films are about emotional response, usually achieved via extreme reactions to stimuli that the viewer encounters daily. The death of a relationship is more than an abrupt argument or act of violence. It's slow and painful, filled with sorrowful love making and endless, questioning exchanges in both words and expression. Gosling taps into these truths, using his often maligned stoicism to tear away the armor of regret and expose the broken heart at the center. Mara compliments this with her fairy like presence, becoming the glittery strand at the center of the narrative. She is seductive and vulnerable, talented and unsure, and these elements attract everyone in her orbit, be it sexually or professionally. Mara's constantly shifting hair and wardrobe, designed by Kelly Nelson and Jaqueline West tie into Malick's nonlinear framework of identity with respect to the bedroom and backyard gatherings of the soul.
These concepts play out under the Austin spotlight, with several cameos by music legends such as Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. Malick weaves expected strings of Biblical imagery throughout the story, with Michael Fassbender's villainous turn being the demonic core. His Cook is a lecherous music executive with a voracious appetite for pleasures of the flesh and narcotics; and Fassbender's performance is a nefarious delight: A modern day Lucifer in the conservatory of Eden. He walks with an alluring gait of self-serving apology, counterfeit brotherhood, and unchecked avarice with panache only Lucifer himself could conjure. The depth of his depravity is explored via his doomed marriage to Natalie Portman's Rhonda. Portman abandons the inherent strength of previous roles in favor of a lamb to the slaughter, a sacrifice on the altar of affluence which plays out through hallucinogenic orgies and subtle refutations of religion and family, byproducts of Fassbender’s Faustian persona.
Each of the four players is an avatar of the grand concepts that Malick has explored for the duration of his career. Greed, lust, love, and artistry all have their place in a lustrous pantheon framed by Emanuel Lubezski's celestial camera work While there are similarities with The Tree of Life, Lubezski's abandons the larger than life compositions of domesticated suburbia for tight shots of intimacy and whispered dreams of fame; showing that to these characters there is nothing else in existence during the height of their musical daydreams until reality begins to creep through the Christmas light veneer of the stage. The concert scenes are kinetic and primal, with quick pans capturing costumed legions of supplicants before their unstable musical deities, offsetting the quietness that permeates every scene between the leads, reminding the viewer not of peril, but of the sensationalism of our perceived selves. While Fassbender builds an empire of arousal, Mara shields herself in the perceptions of her lovers, retreating into the idealism of their ardor. Gosling serves are the pivot, with a touching return home becoming a catalyst both for acceptance of the future and forgiveness for the past.
There are flaws, depending on a viewer's cinematic preferences. The non-linear narrative will not resonate with many viewers and the distinct lack of action will be a turn-off for others. This is a slow, meditative journey filled more with possibilities than a concrete story and one must be in the right mindset to appreciate it. As with all of Malick's storied filmography, Song to Song is a lullaby, best experienced like a warm bath for the soul that caresses you with its undeniable message of love and yet stirs you with the unavoidable cold of an imperfect world.
Coming soon to digital streaming, Song to Song is a pure poetic cinema. Continuing with Malick's contentious free form presentation, this is a challenging film that brings together an eclectic mix of acting bravura and musical icons to showcase the importance of artistic passion and how even this pales in comparison to the universal power of love.
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