Top 100 Films #39 – Days of Heaven (1978)

 

20130619-083335#39. Days of Heaven (1978)
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

Days of Heaven is the film that truly launched the career of mysterious filmmaker Terrence Malick, who continues to turn out some of the most beautiful, philosophical films of our time.  Despite its success critically and on the awards circuit, Malick took a twenty year hiatus after its release, coming back in 1998 with The Thin Red Line. Days of Heaven tells the story of siblings Bill (Richard Gere) and Linda (Linda Manz) on the run after Bill accidentally kills his boss during a dispute at work.  Bill’s girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) joins the two in the Texas Panhandle, where the three work for a quiet farmer (Sam Shepard).  The Farmer, who learns he is dying,  eventually falls in love with Abby, who is encouraged by Bill to marry him so they can inherit his money upon his death.  Unfortunately for all three involved, the once false love triangle quickly becomes very real, and things become far more complicated than they ever expected.  Days of Heaven is a quiet, meditative tale of love and betrayal, and features all of the elements that Terrence Malick would eventually become famous for.  The film, shot by acclaimed cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, is breathtakingly beautiful in every frame.  Malick’s eye for sweeping landscapes, horizons, and the mundane beauty of nature is unparalleled, especially in combination with the use of natural lighting during the famous “golden hour”.  The visuals featured in Days of Heaven are some of my favorite in film history, and I truly feel that its beauty is undeniable. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros picked up a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his efforts – famously making him the only man to win for photography on a Terrence Malick picture. Another highlight of the film comes in the form of its beautiful score by the master Ennio Morricone and guitarist Leo Kottke, which serves to push the film’s atmospheric naturalistic feel even further.  Though Days of Heaven is perhaps best known for its stylistic elements, Malick’s screenplay is another of its crowning achievements – featuring his usual philosophic ruminations on man’s relationship with nature, death, and innocence, but in a much more conventional narrative fashion than his later films.  Malick uses narration by Linda Manz’s young character Linda to push the story forward, using her naivety and innocence to compliment the film’s themes. We’re left with a quiet, beautiful, meditative story featuring a strong love triangle element that constantly leaves us wanting more and questioning what will happen next.  The film’s shining moment comes in the form of a locust swarm descending upon the farm, with the farmers being forced to burn their crops in order to ward off the invading insects.  These scenes are filmed with natural light, and use impressive film reversal techniques to give the illusion that the locusts are invading from all angles.  Days of Heaven is a triumph of 1970’s cinema, and my absolute favorite Terrence Malick film – they truly don’t get much more beautiful than this.  

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