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Days of Heaven

35mm film print version

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At the beginning of the twentieth century a labourer on the lam (Richard Gere) hops a train to Texas and signs up for the wheat harvest, along with his lover Abby (Brooke Adams) and his kid sister (Linda Manz). He tells the farmer (Sam Shepard) Abby is his sister, and when the boss takes an interest, he encourages Abby this could be to their advantage.

This is an unlikely masterpiece: a melodrama pared back to the bone and filtered through the hazy consciousness of a child, Days of Heaven would seem fundamentally miscast and under-written. Richard Gere’s method-ism is too modern for a pre-WWI labourer (even in the wordless opening in foundry he seems out of place); Sam Shepard is arguably too young and virile to play the farmer. Does it make sense that Abby and Bill should have pretended to be siblings all the while? The production was riven with difficulties, the director maddeningly inarticulate, the original DP (Haskell Wexler) left halfway through, and Malick unpicked and overwrote his movie during a twelve month editing process. The Linda Manz voice over amounts to about 15 minutes culled from over 60 hours of recordings. And yet we’re left with pure poetry, at once the most evocative and resonant portrait of an agrarian way of life in the early twentieth century, and a pastoral that shades into Old Testament myth. It’s one of the most beautiful films you will see.

One of the most beautiful films ever made. Malick’s purpose is not to tell a story of melodrama, but one of loss. His tone is elegiac. He evokes the loneliness and beauty of the limitless Texas prairie…This is a movie made by a man who knew how something felt, and found a way to evoke it in us. That feeling is how a child feels when it lives precariously, and then is delivered into security and joy, and then has it all taken away again—and blinks away the tears and says it doesn’t hurt.

Roger Ebert

Cinema as an intense pictorial experience… Despite its beauty and pastoral evocation of an accommodating environment, Days of Heaven is filled with struggle, destruction, and ruminations on the vagaries of the human condition.

1001 Movies

August 28 only: Introduction from UBC educator Joshua Timmerman

August 31 only: Introduction from VIFF programmer Sonja Baksa

August 28 & 31: Exclusive introduction by production assistant Rick Drew, with never-before-seen test footage by Nester Almendros + (Aug 31 only) Q&A with Rick.

Director

Terrence Malick

Cast

Richard Gere, Linda Manz, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard

Credits
Country of Origin

USA

Year

1978

Language

English

Awards

Best Director, Cannes 1979; Best Cinematography, Academy Awards 1979

19+
94 min

Book Tickets

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Credits

Executive Producer

Jacob Brackman

Producer

Bert Schneider, Harold Schneider

Screenwriter

Terrence Malick

Cinematography

Néstor Almendros

Editor

Billy Weber

Art Director

Jack Fisk

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