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Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ at Berlinale

‘Knight of Cups’ is another Malick film where the director expresses disinterest in the boundaries of a conventional narrative

February 09th, 2015
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In his recent films, Terrence Malick pays little attention to conventional narratives as he trawls for epiphanies and moments of cinematic rapture. This was the case with the award-winning ‘The Tree of Life’ from 2011 and ‘To the Wonder’ released two years ago. ‘Knight of Cups’ is no exception. Malick’s new feature treats its audience with hedonistic parties shot in slow-motion; actions expressed via eye-popping colours and vertiginous camerawork.

Christian Bale, who stars as Rick in the film, stated at a Berlinale press conference that  there was not much help for the actors in terms of contextualisation or back story. The dialogue is limited and elliptical. Bale revealed at the conference at Berlinale Palast that sometimes he would come to a shoot with no idea what was going to happen that day.

The film centers on Rick, a successful L.A. screenwriter who decides to abandon his  glamourous life. He is known in the film circuit, goes to the right parties and has access to powerful people, but Rick realises this empty Hollywood-fueled hedonistic life has burned him out as a screenwriter and  he begins a struggle to escape its clutches. He finds himself on a journey, search for something new.

The title ‘Knight of Cups’ refers to the tarot card depicting a romance seeker driven by emotions rather than logic. So in the role of romance seeker, Rick wanders around the L.A. having encounters with many women (Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett), his brother and father and a couple of agents, while trying to patch together some sense of his life.

The film is broken into chapters named after tarot cards, such as ‘The Moon’, ‘The Hanged Man’ or ‘The High Priestess’. It is a physically tactile film, designed to capture moments in their immediate essence, like the images on tarot cards.

In this feature, Malick comes close to making a silent film, in which the visuals, rather than the dialogue, express the emotions of the characters. The director is interested in experiences defined by gestures and physical contact. ‘Knight of Cups’ is a collage of lush images that present dreamlike storytelling.