Festival Review: Knight Of Cups (2015)

Knight Of Cups

The visual odyssey of a knight’s quest for the meaning of life, Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups loses itself in its own watery reflection.

City Of Angels

by Mark Wilshin

Knight Of Cups

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

“‘My father says there’s only one perfect view, and that’s the view of the sky over our heads.’ ‘I expect your father has been reading Dante.'” And as Knight Of Cups cruises the ceilings of night clubs, casinos and the ever-crepuscular sunset skies, you might wish Terrence Malick had dipped into The Divine Comedy too. Instead, it’s an occult collage of the Tarot deck we’re witness to, passing through Moon, the Hanged Man, Sun, the Tower and Death on the journey of one lost prince looking for his pearl. But for a film with a grand aim about the meaning of life, Knight Of Cups is also an LA odyssey, lifting the veil on the falseness of studio lot sets, Hollywood parties and the overwhelming numbness of success. A collage of beautiful images, classical music and voiceover (by Ben Kingsley), Malick’s film follows the same labyrinthine pattern as The Tree Of Life and To The Wonder, but with even less humility or coherence. Instead it’s a who’s who of places and objects – from the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin to Roy Lichtenstein’s Wallpaper With Blue Floor Interior – an Instagram stream of things seen. And with a cast list that looks like an encyclopaedia of Hollywood’s finest (Cate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, Natalie Portman, a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance from Dane DeHaan and even first direction from Sebastian Silva), it’s baffling why so many want to be involved when scenes with dialogue and performance can be counted on one hand. Instead we’re treated to an endless procession of women in various states of nudity throwing their hands in the air like they just don’t care. And along with Malick’s elemental but repetitive obsession with water, sun, sky and earth and a narration that verges into a nauseating blend of self-help inspiration and perfume advert, Knight Of Cups becomes a puzzle – a nettle to be grasped or put aside in stinging exasperation. A warning against the pursuit of cinematic beauty, Knight Of Cups is a film experience rather than a film. And a protracted Purgatory indeed.

Knight Of Cups is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival

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