Filmed largely in Austin, Texas, SXSW’s and Malick’s home town, Song to Song, is a Malick film in the true regard, as pondering and exploration hold the core of the narrative. Starring Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender, it’s considered a “modern love story set against the Austin music scene, where two entangled couples … chase success through a rock’n’roll landscape of seduction and betrayal”. However, superficiality, depression and restlessness is what underscores this latest film from Terrence Malick, the director of Badlands, The Thin Red Line and more recently, The Tree of Life.
Fluid in his approach, as with most of his films, Song to Song, is filled with shots of swishing waters, tweeting birds, stable oaks, but also with the chat and insight of a number of real-life musicians in the film, including Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Val Kilmer as well as his indulgently stellar cast. Restless in his movement in meandering camera as well as those of the protagonists, Malick looks as much for the light cast on the actor’s face as he does the script, the dialogue. Perhaps where it does remain too fluid still is in the edit, as I did find myself getting restless nearing the end, questioning how much more I could take of these complex, and yet in some ways two-dimensional, characters.
Michael Fassbender plays Cook, a music producer and philanderer in many respects, with little understanding of the repercussions of his actions, a destructive force. Rooney Mara plays Faye wonderfully as she tip toes her way through life, selfishly working to find her way in Austin, developing with self-awareness as she travels through the plot. Ryan Gosling’s BV is somewhat of a justified suspicious character, as he becomes entwined with Faye and questions her infidelity, inevitability leading to their break up.
Is it Cook’s world that is a stage show or is it Mr. Malick’s? He creates an interestingly superficial stage somewhat seductively depressing, with his character’s voice always searching for something beyond this, even Fassbender’s Cook. He explores how the false promise with sex can break not only relationships but people. My favourite scenes are those where we get what seems a genuine insight into Patti Smith as she and Faye discuss relationships and meandering in life.
Lengthy, indulgent in parts, yet the performances are stunning and worth the two hour plus viewing time.
Song to Song runs at The Filmhouse, Edinburgh until Thursday 20th July.