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When press releases and news articles first appeared with details of new distributor Apparition, one thing stood out: Tree of Life, the upcoming and as yet very mysterious new film from lone wolf director Terrence Malick, was planned for release on Christmas Day. This seemed wildly optimistic, as the film’s production had been kept so tightly under wraps that we barely know what the film is about, and had no reason to believe it was done. That skepticism turns out to be well-founded, as the film has been pushed to an undetermined release in 2010.

Anne Thompson got the details from Apparition head Bob Berney, who hasn’t yet seen the currently unfinished film and says “I can’t tell you when it will come out.” In some situations, a new distribution head saying he hasn’t seen one of the films on his slate would be insane, but this is Malick.

The director earned nearly limitless cred with his first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven. So much cred, in fact, that when he made The Thin Red Line almost twenty years after Days of Heaven, actors lined up to work with him. And even though many of those actors ended up cut from the final film, people are still wild to work with Malick. He’s an intuitive artist, and even if his films are far from perfect (I’m no big fan of his most recent movie, The New World) he remains a treasure.

So now Malick continues the year-long process of editing Tree of Life, a long father/son drama focused on grief and forgiveness. It is apparently based on a story he conceived 30 years ago and will be accompanied in some measure by the IMAX documentary (or semi-documentary) Voyage of Time that chronicles the ‘birth and death of the universe’. Brad Pitt stars in Tree of Life and is said to be narrating Voyage of Time. That’s all we really know of the latter film, beyond the fact that it is evidently based on a prehistoric prologue to the story that became Tree. Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain are also in Tree, which we may see at Cannes next year.

If that all sounds confusing, don’t worry. It is, but only because Malick has been very good at keeping details close.

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