TO THE WONDER written and directed by Terrence Malick, with Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams. A VVS Films release. 112 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (April 19). For venues and times, see Movies.
Olga Kurylenko has come to the Toronto Film Festival with two movies, Terrence Malick's To The Wonder and Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths, but the only movie she wants to talk about is Malick's.
This is understandable; she's only got about six minutes of screen time in Seven Psychopaths, playing a mobster's two-timing girlfriend - a role not dissimilar to previous gigs in movies like Hitman, Max Payne or even Quantum Of Solace, in which she played an arm-candy Bond girl. (She's also in this week's Oblivion, opposite Tom Cruise.)
To The Wonder, on the other hand, sees her as a person - Marina, a European who marries an American (Ben Affleck), moves to suburban Oklahoma and slides gradually into misery as her marriage falls apart.
The film unfolds in an even more impressionistic, free-associative style than Malick's last film, The Tree Of Life. There's minimal dialogue, the cast telling the story almost in pantomime.
"That was Terrence's biggest goal," Kurylenko says in a quiet ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel. "He wanted us to speak with our bodies and our faces, our eyes. Often I would want to speak [aloud], and he would say, ‘No, no, no - ssshhh. Don't speak. Don't say it, don't say it.' And I would be, ‘Terry, why? You just gave me all these pages of text!'"
When Kurylenko says "pages," she's not kidding. Malick parcelled out the script to his actors on an as-needed basis, giving them only the pages they'd be shooting that day.
"He doesn't want you rehearsing," she says. "That's why he brings it [on] the day. It's kind of terrifying, because he doesn't want you to go and think about it. It's very instinctive with him. He said, ‘You have your instinct, and don't let anyone shut it down. Always listen to your instinct - it's the most important thing.' And he's right."
Malick commands incredible loyalty from his actors for creating a fertile space in which to explore their characters. That's a paraphrase from Tree Of Life's Jessica Chastain in 2011, but Kurylenko basically says the same thing.
"When you watch Terrence's movies, you have a feeling that he almost filmed a documentary, you know?" she says. "It's prepared, but not rehearsed. It's there, the base is there, the fundament is built, and he builds it up through long conversations. He drives you slowly to that place where you're gonna do exactly what he wants you to do - and you think you came up with that, but actually he did [laughing]. It's just wonderful, like telepathy. He doesn't have to say it, but he puts that idea in you, and you think, ‘Oh, I did that!' But actually he did that."
Though Malick's final cut of To The Wonder isn't exactly the picture Kurylenko shot - the initial conception, she says, was far darker - she's still very happy to have been part of something so complex and cinematic.
"It's really for an attentive and thoughtful viewer," Kurylenko says. "You can't just get there and eat popcorn and talk in the middle. You've got to watch it in silence. Otherwise, you're gonna miss it."