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.
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.
August 28 only: Introduction from UBC educator Joshua Timmerman
Richard Gere, Linda Manz, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard
Best Director, Cannes 1979; Best Cinematography, Academy Awards 1979
Bert Schneider, Harold Schneider
More Films in This Series
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The biggest hit from the 70s phase of Brian De Palma's career, Carrie takes Stephen King's horror novel about a troubled telekinetic teen and weaves it into a purely cinematic rhapsody of angst and (retali-)elation, what Pauline Kael termed "a terrifyingly lyrical thriller".
All the President's Men
This gripping account of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigation into the Watergate break-in is a masterclass of cinematic craft from director Alan J Pakula (Klute; The Parallax View) and DP Gordon Willis (The Godfather).
The Parallax View
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A passion project for producer-star Warren Beatty, this frothy boudoir comedy of Beverly Hills manners views its hairdresser hero's bed-hopping with a certain sadness. Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant and Carrie Fisher come along for the ride.