I showed just over an hour early for Knight of Cups, as I figured most would have the same idea and not making into the theater seemed a very real possibility. As I arrived, a short queue had already begun to form, and the question “Is this the line for the Malick movie?” quickly became an over-inflated currency.
Once we’d made it in, the ushers had to tell us we can’t leave empty seats in the middle of the rows, and had to squash together instead, because it was going to be a full house (which wasn’t an exclusive fact to this screening, just a new means of dealing with a pre-existing problem). Odd that we are all brought together over a love of cinema yet kept separate by a fear of sitting to close to one another. Today I was sandwiched between two pairs of reporters who travelled together to the Berlinale. On my left sat two guys speaking in some sort of Scandinavian language, recording their conversation on a Zoom handy recorder (of which the only words I could understand were ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’), while on my right sat two girls speaking something which I guessed comes from a Slavic country, but I really couldn’t say for sure. They were also engaged in conversation. Suddenly, it occurred to me for the first time since the beginning of the festival that there is something beautiful about this festival I’d missed: the broad base of people from wildly different backgrounds and cultures brought together over a love of cinema.
Knight of Cups finally began and within five minutes I saw a big flashing sign that yelled “GOLDEN BEAR!” but by the end, the crowd’s feelings of restlessness were made more than apparent. The first half hour was a thrill. I was being mentally and visually thrown into a pool of exactly the right temperature – an action carried out on more than one occasion in the film. The last twenty minutes felt like a bit of a chore while I was watching them, but from the moment it ended and I walked out the door, it grew on me. Like small waves softly hitting the shore (also a visual motif in Knight of Cups), its images, ideas, and intricacies kept coming back to me, a little more impactful with each hit. It is often visually stunning and more consistently interesting than 2012’s To the Wonder, not to mention of a much greater scope. On the other hand, I find it interesting that certain patterns of semi-rapid editing and beautiful swooping cameras throughout get us too accustomed to what would in most films feel extraordinarily bold.
Remembering my folly on the day of the Queen of the Desert press conference, I power-walked past as many people as I could to reach the room in time, but still to no avail. It seemed just enough people had left the screening early to make it into the conference room. I was able to take the elevator up to watch a live stream in the area just outside the conference room this time, and a fellow writer on the elevator made vocal his noting of this very problem, saying that it was simply ridiculous that one should have to either finish the film or go to the press conference. In this area outside the conference room, we could hear the photographers going insane as stars Natalie Portman and Christian Bale appeared for their photo call. It was a hailstorm of shutter snaps, but nothing could prepare me for the moment when Portman tried to head into the conference room only to be met by a much louder storm of “Boo!”s. I really couldn’t believe it.
Finally the circus had calmed down a touch and the conference began. I watched a number of people snap photographs of the television screen as it would cut to close-ups of Bale and Portman. I had done the same thing during the stream of Queen of the Desert’s conference, but boy had I failed to realize how dumb it looks.
The first question was a standard Malick-film reaction, “what is the film really about?” Bale replied quite simply that ‘Terry’ hadn’t told them what it’s about, and instead gave them character descriptions. Apparently there was a large mix of actors and non-actors on set (which was not at all surprising to learn thanks to a number of scenes involving large groups of celebratory folks), and Bale “never knew what [he] was going to be doing each and every day.” Bale described his own interpretation of the film as being about a man who has “seen the peak of the mountain, but finds a real emptiness inside him” and said that Terry Malick is “a lovely man,” while stating that their on-set mantra was “let’s start before we’re ready.”
When asked what she admires about Terry’s work, Portman said “Days of Heaven is probably my favorite film ever. […] He makes impactful films, both visually and emotionally” and that meeting him was one of those “rare experiences where the person exceeds your expectations.”
When asked about voice-over work for the film (as most of the dialogue is in voice-over rather than being spoken diegetically), both said they had done more days of voice-over work than shooting, and that for Bale, they would record not just in-studio but in vans and trucks on the go – “whatever worked.”
Our resident funnyman journalist (I have no idea who he is, but his questions are always unintentionally fun and difficult to decipher [read: nightmare questions]) first said he had a question for the director. Everyone laughed. “Silly resident funnyman journalist!” they thought, “Everyone knows that the great Terrence Malick is an old-fashioned hermit!” It seems our man had thought one of the producers was the director. Probably everyone watching that monitor wondered why he deserved to be in that room instead of us. Here is an amazingly lucky shot of myself and the funnyman from the Diary of a Chambermaid press conference:
So, he re-phrased his question, asking Bale how it felt to make this movie which was about “somebody who needs help to talk about his problems.” It seemed from the phrasing of the question that our man had read the film as being about Christian Bale’s character contemplating suicide. While suicide is touched upon in the film, there was hardly a strong suggestion that such thoughts were implied. Nevertheless, Bale handled the question gracefully, offering that he wasn’t sure he’d fully understood the question but that “the point is to fill a void [his character] believed would be filled by success but was not.”
At one point Bale joked that we could ask Terry about the film ourselves, as he was “right back there” (in the next room). Producer Sarah Green said that “to work with Terry is to be light on our feet. We are very much in the moment,” and that they were happy to support a vision so strong yet so loose. Man, it must be cool to be on not only a first-name, but a nickname basis with Malick. Bale mentioned that “sometimes [Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki] would just hand us a GoPro.” I knew those shots were done on GoPros, I just knew it!
What Portman learned about directing from Malick: “Find your own way…allow the mistakes…welcome the problems” and embrace the unknown.
Bale on similarities between himself and his character in the film: “I don’t like to compare myself to the characters I play.” Bale had a good time throwing questions back at reporters.
Thanks to a scene where Bale suckles on Portman’s toes, one reporter asked at the end of a string of questions what her toes tasted like. Bale answered simply that they were very nice.Return to Our Berlinale 2015 Daily Coverage