CANNES 2011: BRAD PITT & THE TREE OF LIFE
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TERRENCE MALICK lived up to both his public and professional reputation Monday at the CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, remaining out of sight while premiering a film that left crowds buzzing over its thematic scope, emotional depth and visual grandeur.
The notoriously press shy director was nowhere to be seen after THE TREE OF LIFE, his long awaited epic drama of creation and one family’s place in it, screened for critics and reporters ahead of its official festival premiere.
The film starring BRAD PITT, SEAN PENN and JESSICA CHASTAIN drew enthusiastic applause from the majority of viewers at the press screening.
Debuting in U.S. theaters on MAY 27, THE TREE OF LIFE is only TERRENCE MALICK’S fifth film in a nearly 40 year career, and his first at CANNES since 1978’s DAYS OF HEAVEN, which earned him the festival’s directing prize.
The filmmaker has stayed behind the scenes for his subsequent movies,
1998’s THE THIN RED LINE and 2005’s THE NEW WORLD. He skipped the CANNES press conference that followed Monday’s screening, leaving BRAD PITT, JESSICA CHASTAIN and his producers to face reporters.
“Mr. Malick is very shy and I would say that I believe his work speaks for itself,” producer SARAH GREEN said.
BRAD PITT compared TERRENCE MALICK’S attitude toward publicizing a film to building a house.
“I don’t know why it’s accepted that people who make things in our business are then expected to sell them and I don’t think that computes with him,” commented BRAD, who is also a producer on the film.
“He wants to focus on the making of it, not the real estate, selling the real estate. It is an odd thing for an artist to start something and then be a salesman.”
SEAN PENN, who had been travelling to CANNES from Haiti, missed the press conference but was on hand for the film’s evening premiere.
“Terry Malick is a visionary,” BRAD said before heading into the premiere. “A quite extraordinary individual.”
BRAD was joined on the red carpet before the premiere by romantic partner ANGELINA JOLIE. They both signed autographs and shook hands with the festival’s celebrity watchers, who cheered and shouted as the two stars walked the red carpet.
CANNES organizers had hoped to debut the film a year ago, but it was not ready. TERRENCE MALICK’S producers said the form of the film did not change dramatically in the last year. The director just needed more time.
“If you believe that movies are alive and talking back to you, there’s a point at which it’s very obvious they’re not finished,” said producer DEDE GARDNER.
THE TREE OF LIFE stars BRAD PITT as a loving but sometimes brutally stern father, with JESSICA CHASTAIN the wife who stands as a figure of grace for their three confused, intimidated sons. SEAN PENN plays the eldest son as a grown man, reflecting on the people and moments that shaped him.
TERRENCE MALICK is known for making films that defy classification, with a free flowing narrative style forming the backbone for far flung explorations of the meaning of existence.
THE TREE OF LIFE had a dense script, but the director left each day of shooting loose and open so he could explore whatever chance might send his way, his collaborators said.
“He never wanted to – what we call – hammer and tong a scene as it’s written,” BRAD stated.
“He was more interested in capturing what was happening on the day. He’s like a guy standing there with a butterfly net and waiting for that moment of truth to go by.”
JESSICA CHASTAIN recalled one such instance of spontaneity that made it into the film “where a butterfly lands on my hand. It’s not in the script. We didn’t put anything on my hand to make it land there. It’s because he creates a set where he allows for those moments to happen.”
The richly personal drama is told in a vast reach of impressionistic exchanges and images: from breathtaking views of the universe’s creation to primordial scenes in the age of the dinosaurs to tender and terrifying family moments.
The dreamlike images are accompanied by poetic voiceovers as characters ponder the universe, wonder if God exists and offer small pleas or questions to him.
“Lord, why? Where were you?” JESSICA CHASTAIN’S character laments after tragedy strikes.
“Who are we to you? Answer me.”
The film points up how little what we do on earth really matters in an eternal universe, yet simultaneously stresses that our finite lives matter all the more against that unknowable infinity.
Some at CANNES found it all deeply moving. Others said TERRENCE MALICK went over the top as some cosmic sequences play on for 15 minutes or more without a human face to be seen.
The range of reactions might suit the director just fine.
“One of the reasons Terry maybe shies away from forums like this is that he wants the work to stand on its own. He doesn’t want to say what it’s about or whether it’s autobiographical or not,” said producer BILL POHLAD.
“He just wants the audience to bring their own thing to it…as opposed to him interpreting it or verbalizing it.”