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Venice Film Festival: To the Wonder of Malick

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I'm ashamed to say it but until this morning I was a Terrence Malick virgin.

Several times in social situations, friends have started talking about his movies, and they'd often turn to me for my expert commentary on the director as a film festival expert but I wouldn't have any.

But last night, a funny thing happened. I was a friend's plus one to the Vanity Fair party over on mainland Venice (the film festival takes place on the beach island of The Lido).

Not unexpectedly, the room was awash with stunningly beautiful Italian women in equally stunning designer dresses, and then there were some Italian men too. Thrown in there were a few celebrities; Laetitia Casta, Samantha Morton and finally Zak Efron.

(Despite the fact that most of the Italians there didn't know who Zak was, his bodyguards at one point overzealously commandeered the only toilets at the party like it was a military exercise, advertising to everyone that the young hunk needed to relieve himself.)

Anyway, to say we felt out of place was an understatement, so we went hunting around the party for normal non-pretentious people. It took a while but eventually we came across two very down-to-earth American guys - one of which it transpired was an executive producer of "To The Wonder," the Terrence Malick film in competition at the festival.

To say he was nervous about the screening the next day was an understatement. He was smoking his cigarettes in one drag whilst continuously panicking about whether the film was going to get good reviews or not.

I told him it was obvious that the reviews were going to be mixed, as it was, after all, a Terrence Malick film - if there is one thing I know, you either love them or hate them.

This was reflected in the two press screenings of the morning, the first at 9am got a mixture of boos and claps, whereas the 11am sitting had a rapturous applause at the end.

I'd made it to the latter after making a vow to this producer that I would go and see it, so out went my plans to see the Susanne Bier movie and in came Malick.

Within the first five minutes, I could clearly see why this acclaimed director was like Marmite to the film world. It started with Bond girl Olga Kurylenko talking in French about the philosophy of love, whilst wandering and twirling (oh yes, she did a LOT of twirling in the film) alongside her boyfriend played by Ben Affleck.

The style and content of it reminded me of a feature length version of those perfume adverts which appear on mainstream television in the build-up to Christmas.

The story explored the ups and downs of this couple's relationship and whilst at first I was a bit befuddled by the sheer pretentiousness of it all, after around 70 minutes in I started to feel quite comfortable with the narrative and style - although for the life of me I still don't understand how Javier Bardem was involved in the story as a priest, although he did feature a lot.

When the film finally finished (it seemed about 10 minutes too long for me), I left the cinema but not the film as the wafty style of the movie stayed with me and I seemed to be seeing everything as if it were a Terrence Malick movie (although no-one was twirling, which was a bit of a disappointment.)

With my Malick camera eyes in full flow and my interest piqued, I was determined to find out more about this director, so I attended the film's press conference.

Sadly, Terrence didn't.

So it was up to the producers and Olga to try and answer the five minute questions posed at them by Italian journalists. (Over here, reporters appear to go by the adage - 'why use five words when you can use five hundred').

Unsurprisingly, I didn't learn much about Malick from that, except he forced Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko to read mighty classic Russian tomes for their roles, that he doesn't like dialogue (evident by Ben Affleck barely opening his mouth in the entire film), and that he isn't, contrary to reports, sitting at the festival in disguise.

But at least now I can say that I am no longer a Terrence Malick virgin. In fact, I'd now consider watching the Cannes winning "Tree of Life" - apparently, it has dinosaurs in it.