Saturday, July 10, 2010

Maggie 2010: A Round of Resounding Recs, Part I

#86. Days of Heaven

One of the films on last week's list of family-friendly flicks with non-white leads, Pather Panchali, is known for meandering narration, a style noted in some reviews to be culturally specific. This may well be true, but as both that film and Days of Heaven situate themselves around the lives of lower-class narrators, I'm left wondering if poverty is the real uniting thread for this stylistic choice.

Days of Heaven follows three migrant labourers travelling to the Texas Panhandle for work in 1916. A very young and strapping Richard Gere plays Bill, whose violence at a steel mill has forced him, his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), and our narrator, younger sister Linda (Linda Manz), to make this journey from the city. Despite their destitution, some social moors of the time still weigh heavily upon them, leading Bill and Abby to pretend to be brother and sister to prevent gossip among other labourers. This has profound consequences when they reach the wheat fields of a very rich man given a medical death sentence of just a year or two: When the shy farmer (Sam Shepard) takes a liking to Abby, Bill encourages her to accept his advances for their collective betterment down the road. Everything gets infinitely more complicated when the farmer survives his illness.

Is this a scheme, as the farmer's foreman suspects? Are these migrant labourers using this poor man? Or is this in fact a sacrifice Abby is forced to make for her true love, of her true love? Do the trappings of wealth prove a better life than the one they had before? And since younger sister Linda is still a child, what can be said of her role as observer to so much deceit? How many people here are helpless victims of circumstance? How many are not?

These are questions the film asks, and firmly leaves unanswered, which make the tale itself exquisite. But it is not for this film's plot that I most thoroughly recommend Days of Heaven: rather, the cinematography, the unapproachable selection of stunning rural imagery, the supreme awareness of space and surroundings, matched with a regular muteness of soundtrack in favour of Linda's thickly accented musings, gives this film an atmosphere like no other. A treat for your senses, Days of Heaven is rare testament to both the wild irreverence and ethical imprecision of day-to-day life.

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