Days of Heaven (1978)

Director:  Terrence Malick
Cast:  Richard GereBrooke AdamsSam Shepard
Plot:  A hot-tempered farm laborer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Won Best Director (Cannes).  Won 1 Oscar - Best Cinematography. Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound.
Runtime:  94min
Rating:  PG

Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven is a remarkable film achievement though some say it is mostly for its stunning, Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros.  Malick is one of cinema's “quietest” filmmakers, directing only four films in the last four decades - Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (2005). 

Of all his films thus far (discounting his latest The Tree of Life (2011)), Days of Heaven is probably the best representation of Malick's unique filmmaking style – the use of nature as an important backdrop that serves the function of thematically or metaphorically parallelizing with the film’s plot.

Days of Heaven is almost like a film reel of poetic images one after another, capturing the lives of immigrants as they travel to rural Texas by train to farm and harvest crops. The film is narrated by a young girl called Linda, who appears on screen only sporadically. She is an orphan, leading a nomadic life while observing human nature and interaction. 

At the heart of Days of Heaven is a triangular love story involving two men played by Richard Gere and Sam Shepard, and a woman played by Brooke Adams.  The performances given by the main cast are un-dramatic; the emotions are muted and somewhat lacking in intensity, though they somehow fit with Malick’s unobtrusive, almost meditative style. 

Even though it is fictional, Days of Heaven could have been mistaken for a poetic period piece “documentary” about the struggles of farmers and peasants as they work long backbreaking hours with almost nonexistent pay.  The slow and solemn music by Ennio Morricone gives the film a melancholic, nostalgic touch, describing an era that is lost forever to mankind, but aptly recaptured on film by the hands of a master filmmaker at the top of his game. 

This is the rare occasion when cinematography singularly overwhelms every aspect of a film.  Everything else plays second fiddle, though on repeated viewings, Linda’s narration becomes more meaningful and deep. There is a notable sequence two-thirds into the film – the locust attack – a natural phenomenon captured with admirable technique and is a mesmerizing blend of sight and sound. 

Days of Heaven may be lacking in narrative propulsion (now considered a hallmark of the Malick style), but the quality of its visuals has been rarely surpassed.  This understated but contemplative effort remains to be arguably the most beautifully shot film in the history of cinema.


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*Last viewed Sep 2017




daniel said…
Hmm.. most visually beautiful film? i'll vote for either Bertolucci's The Conformist or Tarkovsky's The Mirror/Stalker. Maybe 2001 takes the cake... Yeah, im a sucker for visually spectacular films.
Eternality Tan said…
I see. I don't think DAYS OF HEAVEN is visually spectacular. It's just visually beautiful in the poetic sense. It is one film that I care to watch again and again just for the cinematography.

Other than that, I believe there are better films out there that are just as beautiful as DAYS OF HEAVEN and offer much more.

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