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Sean Penn Has Issues But Recommends 'Tree Of Life'; Malick Says 'Burial' Is "Rushing Toward A Mix"

by Kevin Jagernauth
August 22, 2011 1:45 AM
4 Comments
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Ah, selective quoting: it's a great way to stir up a beehive as Richard Brody from the New Yorker did this weekend when he cherry picked a comment Sean Penn made in a recent interview with French paper Le Figaro where he seemingly threw Terrence Malick's "The Tree Of Life" under the bus.

"I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact," Penn said. "Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly." Oh snap! Or is it? Context is everything, and the rest of the quote reveals an actor who may be mystified by the end result of Malick's picture -- and may not understand it completely -- but still is a champion for the piece.

"But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved," Penn also told the paper (translation by In Contention). What many seem to forget is that Penn is one of the few actors in Hollywood intimately familiar with Malick's process, having assisted in the editing bay on "The Thin Red Line." In other words, Penn's statement regarding the film isn't a cheap takedown, but a honest assessment of his own feelings on the film. That's it. So, sorry, no beef here.

Moving on, FIPRESCI -- the international federation of film critics -- are not shy about their feelings on "The Tree Of Life" either, recently awarding the picture the Grand Prix prize as best film of 2011. And the honor has rousted Malick from his reclusive shell, as he issued a statement of thanks to the organization and teased an update on a couple of the films he he as in the works. Here's what he had to say:

I'm honored that you should take such a kind view of "Tree of Life" and wish that I could thank you and your colleagues in person. At present, however, we're rushing toward a mix on the picture we shot last fall in Oklahoma and to finish shooting on a new one, a natural history film. I hope that you'll understand. It is uplifting to discover such generous hearts out there, encouraging me and those who work with me, and I hope that some day in the near future we'll gave[sic] the occasion to meet in person.
With warm regards and a fraternal salute,
I am
Yours Sincerely,
[Signed] Terrence Malick

The film he's "rushing toward a mix" on is the untitled romance aka "The Burial" starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Barry Pepper and Jessica Chastain. There was been little word on the project for the past while, other than Optimum picking up the U.K. rights. We pretty much figured we wouldn't see the film until Cannes next year, but if indeed Malick is "rushing toward a mix" -- a phrase we never thought we'd hear the director use -- is it possible it could pop up somewhere on the fall festival circuit? It's a longshot to be sure, but considering he allowed himself to be open to a very rare and public interview in 2007 at the Rome Film Festival, perhaps he will head back to Italy this fall with a new film under his arm. The fest runs from October 27th to November 4th with a lineup announcement due any day now.

As for the "natural history film," it seems he's talking about the long-gestating documentary "Voyage Of Time" which producers indicated earlier this year would be undergoing additional and new shooting. It seems he's yet to hit the editing bay on that picture -- which has Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson signed up to narrate -- so we still could be a way off, but Malick appears to be working on all cylinders these days. Exciting times ahead and with yet another new project on the way starring Christian Bale, Malick shows no sign of slowing any time soon.

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4 Comments

  • Paul Maher Jr. | August 22, 2011 4:35 AMReply

    The other possibility of a natural history film is Malick's role as producer on a documentary about sharks. Slim, but legit.

  • Castor | August 22, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    This year seems like a very big stretch. I think we will be lucky if it makes it to Cannes next year.

  • Nathan Duffy | August 22, 2011 2:41 AMReply

    I think the context provided by the subsequent quote doesn't change much, really. Brody's selective quoting and editorializing makes it seem slightly more egregious maybe, but only slightly. Even without the contextualizing, Brody's quote of Penn isn't an outright takedown/beef anyways. Who doesn't know that Malick's final product will differ greatly from the script? And for an actor who likes great scripts (I imagine), it isn't surprising that he should end up perplexed or even upset by the differences.

    I think Penn's just a dullard, though. His "Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! " is idiotic. His character, as an adult, really the main character in the film. Without him, in that context, there is no film.

  • Gary Potter | August 22, 2011 2:31 AMReply

    I hope Sean Penn does more movies from now on. We see too little of him.

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