Nowadays, there are perhaps only a small sliver of directors that are known for their divisive films. One of said directors is Terrence Malick and his latest, which so happens to also feature a star-studded lineup, Song to Song, hit this year's Edinburgh Film Festival.

Malick is like marmite, you either hate him or love him. And you can often know where you will lie with his films before you even see them, judging based on his prior work alone. His latest feature, Song To Song, follows the complex world of fame and the music scene and the life of rising musician Faye (Rooney Mara) and her equally as complex love triangle with an esteemed music producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and one of his associates, Faye's fellow artist BV (Ryan Gosling). In typical Malick-fashion, we're told the tales of Faye's musical misfortune through voice-over - slow, pensive and melancholic, addressing the person the camera shot is focused on, whether it be BV, Cook or, in the latter stages, even Rhonda (Natalie Portman). The dialogue is rich and poetic, these various stories - told by our four leads, but primarily Faye - often deftly peculiar and mesmerising.

There is a point in the early stages of the film where Mara muses about Fassbender's corrupt, almost antagonistic Cook and his power to slowly lure you in and completely change you. It's a summation for this film's effect as a whole. We, the audience, are Faye and Malick is Cook; as the story progresses, we slowly find ourselves continually entranced and lost amongst these characters and their wistfulness and Malick's craftsmanship. The cinematography is astounding; expectedly, Malick brings his A-game when it comes to style. This is a film that bleeds style, from the pulpy aesthetic to the sweeping and swirling camera takes to the polished locations and calculated shots - every detail so important and necessary - and the slick, focused editing of it all. Each and every shot is so unique and soaked with nuance that each shot is a visual marvel in its own right; typical stuff for the work of Terence Malick, with such a varnished and unique approach to directing: one of the finest filmmakers in the biz, as a result. The soundtrack is pulpy, it's melancholic, it aches, it jumps and it accompanies the visuals and poetic dialogue so superbly to create scenes so hauntingly beautiful they will stir you and become seared into your memory for some time because of how resonant they are.

Of course, whilst he may be one of the best filmmakers in the industry, the same perhaps can't quite be said unanimously about the work of Malick as a storyteller. Whilst Song to Song has a fascinating premise, focusing on the corruption behind fame and people wanting just to make it, there is a lack of much depth to the story behind this. We have voice-overs flowing and various stories from our characters about their firsthand experience with the flamboyancy of fame but it's loosely tied together with a narrative that never seamlessly flows. Beyond this, beyond the characters, the film boasts more style than substance and this is, sadly, its biggest and perhaps only downfall as we jump from story to story and tone to tone - from wild sequences at music festivals and nightclubs to more sombre reflections on the bad decisions made by these musicians.

Thematically, Song to Song works. It's an accurate and honest and genuinely provocative reflection of a society on the cusp of such madness, the box that society and people create to entrap themselves just to somewhat make it in the industry. The characters feel honest and vulnerable. The performances even more so, with everyone excelling as we'd expect. Gosling stretches his muscles yet again as the suave, more levelheaded of the bunch; Fassbender shines in a corrupt role, clearly relishing in his character's power and position over the others whilst Mara gives a more subtle and reserved performance here but one that feels equally as raw and emotionally charged. Portman's screen-time is limited but she grounds the film with the humanity and levity it so desperately needed.

Song to Song is by no means a masterpiece. It won't be for everyone, either - a point I feel I cannot stress enough (several people got up and walked out of our screening). But if Terence Malick's unique, wistful and stylistically-driven direction is for you and you're the sort that enjoys riveting writing, terrific film-making and a more provocative affair - if never quite equipped with that nuanced depth and edge to the narrative - then this is a film for you. If nothing else, Song to Song is a showcase for a plethora of stunning work - from cast and filmmaker, alike - and a stirring, poetic endeavour that will let you float away for a couple of hours and leave you caught up in its hypnosis.

VERDICT:
Terence Malick, once again, has created something divisive, yet oddly poetic; a stylish, wholly mesmerising and hypnotic affair that will wrap you up and swallow you whole.



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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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