Shared from the 2017-03-18 Chattanooga eEdition

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‘Song to Song’ finds beauty in Austin music

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BROAD GREEN PICTURES VIA AP

Rooney Mara, left, and Ryan Gosling appear in “Song to Song.”

As filmmakers obsessed with his early work continue to ape his style, Terrence Malick has ventured beyond, reaching into territory that is stubbornly spiritual and anti-narrative. He eschews story conventions. He turns movie stars like Ben Affleck and Christian Bale into props, using them not for their acting but their broad shoulders that fill up the screen as ethereal women twirl around them. He has become his own genre, and with experimental reveries like “To the Wonder” and “Knight of Cups,” he has alienated some of his most ardent fans.

Th at m o d e r n t r i l o g y concludes with “Song to Song,” taking the filmmaker and his stars Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender to his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas. There’s actually a plot (kind of) and the actors are allowed to act and even have some life and (gasp) fun.

“Song to Song” is a love triangle of sorts, very much in the Malick mode, where one is pure (Mara and Gosling’s struggling musicians), one is untenable (Cate Blanchett and Gosling), one is damned (Fassbender’s sleazy, wealthy producer and Mara) and one is doomed (Natalie Portman’s local waitress/teacher and Fassbender).

If there is a main character, it’s Mara’s Faye, who we’re told is a musician although we never see her playing — only hanging out on the side of the stage, idly holding a guitar. She’s a local girl who takes up with both Gosling’s BV and Fassbender’s Cook at the same time. The innocent BV remains ignorant to this, even as the three become close enough to vacation together.

Combined with Emmanuel Lubezki’s sumptuous cinematography, these travel scenes are fairly riveting. At times I even forgot I was watching a Malick film, which has somehow become more of a compliment recently than a criticism. There are unexpected moments of joy, too, that don’t involve fields or women twirling or cryptic voiceovers: BV dancing in the dusk to Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” BV and Cook weightless on a plane, Patti Smith giving sage advice, Val Kilmer taking a chain saw to an amp. Do they add up to anything? Maybe mood. Maybe nothing.

But it’s wild and confident and unlike anything his peers are making. There’s even a youthful restlessness in his exploration of the impossibility of reconciling wealth and success with innocence and authenticity.

Malick’s doing his own thing. Everyone’s still running to catch up with what he did in the ’70s. He’s already on another planet.

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