Song to Song (2017)

  • Time: 129 min
  • Genre: Drama | Music | Romance
  • Director: Terrence Malick
  • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer


Two intersecting love triangles. Obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas.

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  • In his own way, director Terrence Malick has been making action musicals since his notoriously fallow output became alarmingly abundant. Not only has his characteristic visual poetry and lyricism become more and more fragmented, opaque and, some would say, solipsistic, but his films have taken on a rhythmic propulsion. There’s a constant flow of motion – the camera restless and curious, in focus yet detached, rolling and tumbling so that one is constantly engaged even if there’s a danger of the viewer being anaesthetised by the relentlessness of it all.

    Song to Song, his latest work, possesses the usual Malickian hallmarks but offers a comparatively more linear narrative. Set in and shot around the South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun music festivals, the story swirls around the entanglements, romantic and otherwise, between Faye (Rooney Mara), fellow aspiring musician BV (Ryan Gosling), and powerful record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender). Faye’s heart belongs to BV, who is in the dark about her relationship with Cook, with whom she has been sleeping in hopes of furthering her career and who is also grooming BV for stardom.

    The trio engage in scenes of romantic idealism – breaking off in childlike pas de deux where they can retreat into transcendent states of grace away from the cruel, cruel world. “We thought we could just live from song to song, kiss to kiss,” Faye intones in one of the film’s voiceovers. Indeed, the group form a sort of menage a trois as they travel to Mexico, laughing and smiling and stealing glances at one another. Yet that idyll in Mexico is a turning point – Cook realises the depth of Faye’s love for BV and things dissemble. He takes up with down-on-her-luck waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman), whom he seduces and corrupts with his lifestyle. BV, stung by the reveal of Faye’s betrayal, drifts from a brief encounter with a former girlfriend (Lykke Li) and then to a somewhat serious fling with a socialite (Cate Blanchett). Faye finds herself swept up in the orbit of a Parisian artist (Bérénice Marlohe). Musicians swim in and out like palate cleansers from the drama. Amongst them, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and Val Kilmer, the latter resurrecting his Jim Morrison for one’s viewing pleasure or befuddlement.

    As usual, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Jack Fisk are invaluable assets, combining to create intoxicatingly beautiful compositions and backdrops for the actors to convey their romantic and existential longings. Mara and Gosling give themselves over to the elliptical and elusive currents of Song to Song, but the real standouts here are Portman and Fassbender. Portman has served as a sort of Garbo for Malick – in both here and his previous Knight of Cups, she’s the tragic heroine undone by love – and she once again delivers an often haunting portrait of sensuous heartbreak. Fassbender is a live wire, bursting with energy and arguably giving the most purely physical performance in a Malick film since Olga Kurylenko in To the Wonder. Whether mimicking an ape, pirouetting into the air, crawling into and from beneath a bevy of women, or even snaring Rhonda’s interest by declaring, “Help me, I have a condition – I can’t be left alone,” Fassbender threatens to disrupt the gentle, undulating ebb and flow of Malick’s film. Unlike Mara and Rooney, he is both weightless and weighted, and he convincingly elicits sympathy for the devil.

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