With the exception of his AFI short, LANTON MILLS (1969), director Terrence Malick has worked pretty much exclusively in the theatrical feature format, but his influence extends beyond them to music videos and commercials. Fashion and luxury brands in particular turn to Malick’s style for inspiration in a bid to equate their products with high art. Perfume ads are notorious for this, routinely getting away with some beautiful images that just barely string together to form a coherent story (I’m looking at you, Dior).
Given his profound influence on the format, perhaps it’s surprising that Malick has never dabbled in advertising himself— or maybe we regard him with such an artistic pedigree that his theoretical involvement is literally inconceivable. Thus explains the film community’s collective surprise when Malick unceremoniously released “MON GUERLAIN”, a 60 second ad for the fashion powerhouse’s eponymous perfume line. The piece features Angelina Jolie in a loosely-defined narrative that, ironically enough, makes perfect sense when compared to most of the perfume ads out there. Malick shoots Jolie listlessly wandering an elegant room with draping curtains or frolicking in sun-dappled fields of blossoming lavender, his camera lingering on evocative details like the sweep of her hair or the faded ink of a shoulder tattoo. Set to the sweeping strings of Andy Quin’s “Awakening” (which was previously used by Malick in the trailer for TO THE WONDER (2012)), these images are cross-cut with those of a man sniffing Mon Guerlain perfume, suggesting the idea of sense memory as the various fragrances he detects prompts a corresponding vignette from Jolie.
Even in its scant sixty seconds of runtime, one can find plenty of examples bearing Malick’s aesthetic and thematic signatures. The cinematography resembles that of his recent theatrical aesthetic, embodied by a restless, inquisitive camera. Malick exposes primarily with backlighting, creating silhouettes and lens flares as he dwells on atmospheric details. Malick’s fascination with architecture and the manner in which people inhabit space and the built environment also informs certain compositions like Jolie running her hand alongside a stone bannister, or elegantly descending a staircase. While he admittedly tamps down on any impressions of spirituality, Malick nevertheless can’t help but capture Jolie’s rapture as she basks in life-giving sunlight, or the man’s marveling at how something as simple as a scent can conjure the ephemeral magic of memory.
Once a rarity, brands are increasingly accommodating of filmmakers’ particular styles— a move that naturally elevates the medium. “MON GUERLAIN” is inarguably the result of Malick’s unique skill-set finding an appropriate product and a willing collaborator. In the absence of any voiceover narration, the spot affords Malick the opportunity to develop his storytelling skills on a purely visual level. It remains to be seen if Malick will continue this foray into the realm of advertising, so until a new project emerges, “MON GUERLAIN” will stand as a fascinating and evocative curio in his venerated filmography.
GUERLAIN: “MON GUERLAIN” is currently available via the YouTube embed above.