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USA 1978
Directed by
Terrence Malick
94 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Days Of Heaven

Days Of Heaven is a relatively simple story about a trio of itinerants, Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams), lovers who pretend to be brother and sister, and Bill's teenage sister, Linda (Linda Manz), who just before WWI flee Chicago after Bill accidentally killed a man and roll up on a farm in Texas owned by an unnamed man (Sam Shepard). The farmer is young and rich but dying and when he falls in love with Abby, Bill convinces her to marry him thinking he will die soon. But the farmer doesn't die as expected and tragedy ensues.

This might sound the stuff of high drama but Malick tells it very simply and detachedly, events being seen through the eyes of Linda whose voice-over tells the story whilst the marvellous cinematography of Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler create a richly evocative backdrop for proceedings (Almendros, who was going blind at the time, won an Oscar for this film, however, Wexler who is credited for "additional photography." claims to have shot more than half of the film).

Not long into filming, Malick threw out the shooting script and filmed for a close to a year allowing the actors to "find the story" for the film. He then spent two whole years editing the result. It is ironic that this eminently cinematic approach has led to the film being under-appreciated as unengaging.  However it is precisely the sense of larger things at work that makes it so hauntingly effective, as small mean actions destroy grand ideals. Malick presents this not as a morality play but simply as the workings of human nature (and Nature at large), the laconic narration by Manz working extremely well to carry off this sorrowful matter-of-factness.

A young Richard Gere is perhaps not the best choice of actor for the role, despite having adopted a dumbed-down accent, seeming a little too smooth to be the hot-head he is supposed to be (Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman both turned down the role not that either would have been more suitable, whilst, probably mercifully, John Travolta actually had the role for while but could not get a release from his 'Welcome Back, Kotter' contract). Sam Shepard however is in his element as the reticent wheat-belt farmer. Despite a long working career in film and television Brooke Adams never had so high a film profile again and the unconventional looking Linda Manz who was making her film debut appeared in a few more films before disappearing from view. Ennio Morricone yet again provides an empathetic score

FYI:  This was the first film to utilize a new Eastman ultra light-sensitive stock negative which enabled clarified images to be shot at dawn, at dusk and into the night.

The film's title is a reference to Deuteronomy 11:21 - "That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them as the days of heaven upon the earth."

 

 

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