To the Wonder (4 stars)

To the Wonder

Terence Malick's impressionistic hymn to falling in and out of love

You wait six years for a new Terence Malick film -- that was the gap between The New World and The Tree of Life -- and then another one materialises barely a year later. Advance reports indicated that this was the enigmatic director’s most autobiographical work to date, drawing on his own romantic relationships, and that various high-profile actors (including Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain and Michael Sheen) had all been omitted from the final cut.

Even by Malick’s standards, the ‘story’ in the impressionistic To The Wonder, which flits between different languages, is slender: a beautiful Ukranian single mother (Olga Kurylenko), living in Paris, falls in love with a visiting American (Ben Affleck). She and her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana move to small-town Mid-West America to live with her new beau, in a parish where a lonely Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) is experiencing a crisis of faith.

Accompanied by an eclectic classical music score, and rapturously shot by Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki -- all magic-hour lighting and swaying golden wheatfields -- the elliptical To the Wonder won’t win over the Malick-sceptics. Kurylenko’s whispery, breathless voice-over ('the love that loves us is all around us') and her character’s bare-footed pirouettes will irritate some viewers, while a muted Affleck seems out of his depth acting-wise. Yet Malick has few equals in using all the tools of cinema to convey in To the Wonder the memory of both being in and falling out of love. In the face of the film’s overwhelming visual beauty, no official religious faith is required to feel that you are witnessing paradise gained and lost.

Limited release from Fri 22 Feb.


To the Wonder

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 52min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Terrence Malick
  • Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem
  • UK release: 22 February 2013

Reclusive auteur Malick offers this uncharacteristically quick follow-up to The Tree of Life. An American reconnects with a woman from his home town after his marriage to a European falls apart.