' ' Cinema Romantico: Giving Thanks For...Olga Kurylenko's Pirouettes

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving Thanks For...Olga Kurylenko's Pirouettes

“I doubt there’s a critic out there who managed to get through a review of ‘To the Wonder’ without at least one use of the verb to twirl, given that it’s Kurylenko’s character’s principal form of locomotion throughout the movie. I lost count of the number of individual revolutions she completed while walking through wheat fields, suburban tract housing, and the Tuileries Gardens at around 80.” – Dana Stevens, Slate 

When Ryan McNeil of the Matineecast asked for his listeners to express cinematic thanks in relation to 2013, I tossed off a brief mishmash of a list, topping it with Olga Kurylenko’s pirouettes in “To the Wonder.” I am mighty thankful for Olga Kurylenko’s pirouettes in “To the Wonder.” Upon mentioning this particular blessing on his podcast, Ryan admitted he was more than a little fed up with all of Olga Kurylenko’s pirouettes in “To the Wonder”, and, as the above quote evinces, this does not make him the minority.

It’s possible that to many critics, many of whom have long fawned over reclusive auteur Terrence Malick’s infamously poetic, painterly style, “To the Wonder”, his 2013 offering to the cinema gods, jumped the shark. Just how many rambling abstract voiceovers and sweeping shots of glowing vistas and fields of wheat can one man serve before even the most quixotic critic is reduced to illogical babbling a la Klaus Kinski at the end of “Aguirre, Wrath of God”? Writing in the New Yorker as only he can, David Denby laments that “A Malick sequence has now become a collection of semi-disconnected shots, individually ravishing but bound together by what feels like the trivial narcissism of Caribbean-travel ads on TV.” Exquisite images for the sake of exquisite images.

As someone who has mostly been fond of Malick’s work, I confess that “To the Wonder” worked on me more strongly than any of his previous films. I felt not only swept up in the images, but entirely in tune to their intent. I saw a first fifteen minutes in which Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (whose characters have names although I will refrain from using them because essentially Malick relies on the essence of Affleck and Kurylenko to cultivate the characters) visit Mont St. Michel as a transcendent hymn to the wonder of the title, life in full bloom, flawless harmony between love and nature and the cosmos, and the sort of filmmaking that makes me want to spontaneously combust into cartwheels right there in the theater.

The remainder of the film, however, was a free-fall, Ben and Olga drifting further and further away from the shore of Mont St. Michel, trying desperately to reclaim the wonder and failing. In many respects I found the film’s remaining ninety-five minutes a frustrating slog, and yet that’s exactly what I appreciated about it.

Upon it ending in theater where I first saw it, a girl sitting one seat down asked the guy with her what he thought of the film. He replied that he was with it at the beginning but eventually it lost him. At that, I wanted to wave my arms and shout: “Exactly! Because they were in tune to the wonder of life at the beginning and then they lost it! Don’t you see how brilliant that is?!” But then as frustrating as the film after that opening, I was not entirely lost. And I was not lost because of Olga Kurylenko’s pirouettes.

A couple months ago I became obsessed with Katy Perry’s “Roar.” It wasn’t quite the same sort of obsession I’ve had with other songs where the need to hear it has been nearly narcotic. I would only turn “Roar” when I needed a pick-me-up, and not a pick-me-up on account of withdrawal, as if it were musically bombastic caffeine. If I felt a little low, disconnected, out of touch, monotone, I’d put on the headphones and the click heralding play also heralded a re-connection. Believe me, I know how that sounds, labeling the formal arena rock bubblegum of Katy Perry as a recurring scenic point on this yawning interstate of life. I’m fairly certain I drove a few people close to me batty with my incessant “Roar”ing. Kinda like how so many viewers were driven batty by Olga Kurylenko’s incessant pirouetting.

Of course, what I saw in those pirouettes was the same thing I heard in “Roar.” Yes, she twirled beneath the yawning Oklahoma prairies, but she also twirled down the aisle at the supermarket. No one that’s actually been to the supermarket twirls down the aisle because going to supermarket is a duty bound toil filled with too many people and too many carts in too small a space to gather and purchase all the boring necessities constituting blah mile markers that blend together. So, the signal fading, she twirls, merely a melodramatic way for Olga to re-connect when the transmission is lost.

Olga has a line, recited in voiceover (obviously), in the film's first few minutes that goes like this: "You lifted me from the ground. Brought me back to life." In the course of everyday life we all die a dozen, two dozen, maybe even a hundred thousand, little deaths, and we have to be brought back to (real) life. So we pirouette, we "Roar", this, that, or something else.

This Thanksgiving, remember to raise a glass to your own pirouette.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully-written Nick! I actually had to look up what 'Pirouette' was, ahah, being that English isn't my native language I always love learning a new word.

I haven't seen this but I can see why you'd want to raise a glass to this. Malick's films are so beautifully-shot... in fact I just recently wrote a small tribute to one of my favorite scenes from The New World... it's the subtlest gestures that REALLY made an impact.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

– ruth

Lexi said...

Perhaps I should start Pirouetting around the isles at the grocery store and then it won't seem like such an insurmountable task... But seriously, lovely post.

Nick Prigge said...

Ruth: Thanks! I'm guessing the only reason I thought of it as a pirouette is because of my sister (the other commenter here), a former dancer. I'm pretty sure I've heard her use that word. So I just thought of it as a pirouette. I will read your post at once!

Lexi: You SHOULD pirouette around the grocery store. Just put on your iPod and go to town!

Derek Armstrong said...

I foolishly started watching TTW at around 10:30 this past Sunday night ... and finished it before going to sleep. There may have been a short nap or two, but the movie didn't take me down for the night. So I guess this one found my sweet spot too.