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(From Guardian Unlimited)
In the end, what Robert De Niro's jury at Cannes responded to in Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, the winner of the Palme D'Or, was almost certainly the same thing that captivated me and captivated all admirers of this outstanding movie.
It was the scale, the ambition, the sheer mass. Like those people who gathered, awestruck, in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2002 to gaze at Anish Kapoor's monumental Marsyas installation, festivalgoers gasped and goggled at Malick's film. Some wondered at it, a few shrugged, others giggled. It was a movie to be gazed at, rubbernecked at.
Malick explicitly gave it a cathedral-like structure with one shot of a spiralling stained-glass window. The Tree Of Life is, simply, big -- very big. It takes on big themes, at great length. It repudiates conventional narrative structure and dramatic shape, with the usual linear progression, obstacles overcome and life-lessons learned. It is closer to some kind of symphonic cine-poem, with movements rather than acts or scenes: memories of an unhappy childhood are shot through with visions of the universe, agonised, awestruck epiphanies of scale.
Even as an arthouse artefact, even, in fact, as a Terrence Malick film, there is no really obvious template being followed. It is closer to a Kubrick picture in its attempt at far-reaching time-lines and woozy dreamscape sequences.
But no one other than Malick could have conjured the intense, almost …