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The Tree of Life (2011)

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@Peter: I think Gere may have done some voice-over in Days of Heaven, but can't be certain.

I am pretty sure there is not. Time to watch it again.

Certainly worth watching again, but you'll find all the voice-over narration is by young Linda Manz. This movie made an indelible impression on me.

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Certainly worth watching again, but you'll find all the voice-over narration is by young Linda Manz. This movie made an indelible impression on me.

Yep. The film opens with her wonderful mediative interior monologue, which comes and goes.

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In sound-bites like these, [Malick's interior monologues] just sound pretentious, sentimental, and aggravating.

Two hours of them is about 120 times worse.

Someone below put his finger (specifically re TREE OF LIFE) on why Malick's religiosity doesn't speak to me -- in between being bored stiff, all I've gotten out of THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD (sans the coda) just seems like an Oprah-esque, airy-fairy wisp of transcendentalist "spirituality."

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Someone below put his finger (specifically re TREE OF LIFE) on why Malick's religiosity doesn't speak to me -- in between being bored stiff, all I've gotten out of THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD (sans the coda) just seems like an Oprah-esque, airy-fairy wisp of transcendentalist "spirituality."

Sigh.

I am sad for you.

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Someone below put his finger (specifically re TREE OF LIFE) on why Malick's religiosity doesn't speak to me -- in between being bored stiff, all I've gotten out of THIN RED LINE and THE NEW WORLD (sans the coda) just seems like an Oprah-esque, airy-fairy wisp of transcendentalist "spirituality."

Sigh.

I am sad for you.

I think BADLANDS is pretty awesome as he hadn't yet become "Terrence Malick" -- the genre material and real-life story grounded things. And I haven't seen DAYS OF HEAVEN. It's the late ones that are the snoozers -- THIN RED LINE is a war film narrated by the only WW2 Grunts who majored in philosophy.

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This feels to me like saying, "John Milton... Shakespeare... don't they realize that nobody actually talks like those characters?"

Come to think of it, that was why Roger Ebert dismissed Raising Arizona. Nobody talks like that.

For me, the language of the poetry in Malick's films isn't just about the monologue lines, but about the tension between the views expressed there, and the way they correspond with, open up, and scrape against the images.

But we've been over this before.

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THE NEW WORLD (sans the coda) just seems like an Oprah-esque, airy-fairy wisp of transcendentalist "spirituality."

Malick's academic credentials in Heidegger studies completely undercuts this suspicion. The New World is the most blunt riff on Heidegger's definition of poetry I can think of, which is in a different universe than anything Oprah-esque.

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Victor, care to enlighten me on war films that don't put you to sleep/that you do like and/or appreciate? I understand that this is probably outside the scope of this thread, but I would love to hear your take on war films that "work" for you (unlike THIN RED LINE). Thanks.

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Jeff wrote:

"This feels to me like saying, 'John Milton... Shakespeare... don't they realize that nobody actually talks like those characters?' "

Shakespeare had his unlettered characters speak in vernacular, not in poetry. I am fine with philosophy majors talking like philosophy majors; working-class enlisted men, not so much (and also being indistinguishable from the officers).

MLeary wrote:

"Malick's academic credentials in Heidegger studies completely undercuts this suspicion."

Well now, I'd agree that the last sequence in THE NEW WORLD is shockingly effective on Heideggerian grounds. It turns back on Pocahontas, as she experiences a "thrownness" that the "da-" in her "dasein" has completely not prepared her for.

But having academic expertise in Heidegger does not (a priori, anyway) immunize one against making something airy-fairy. Vulgarized and/or popularized forms of Heidegger do exist, especially in New Age stuff.

Doug wrote:

"Victor, care to enlighten me on war films that don't put you to sleep/that you do like and/or appreciate?"

The obvious example to cite is SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which came out the same year and was often denigrated by TTRL lovers but is an infinitely better film and actually less cliched in the details of behavior than Malick's. But leaving our parodies like TEAM AMERICA; war-set-but-not-really-about-war films like TRIPLE AGENT; and films that touch on war or some example in thematic ways like CACHE -- other war films from the current-day that I think vastly better include CARLOS, RESTREPO, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, THE HURT LOCKER, MASTER AND COMMANDER, DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP, BLACK HAWK DOWN, NO MAN'S LAND, and THE TERRORIST.

Edited by vjmorton

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Heh. The other day I came across an article I wrote for Christianity Today way back in 1999, in which I made a passing reference to how "pretentious and naive" The Thin Red Line seemed and how it "extols a strangely indifferent spirituality". I don't know that I could get away with saying such things nowadays, even (especially?) in that publication -- not without a lot of explication, at any rate. The Malickites have had the run of the place for quite some time. :)

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Heh. The other day I came across an article I wrote for Christianity Today way back in 1999, in which I made a passing reference to how "pretentious and naive" The Thin Red Line seemed and how it "extols a strangely indifferent spirituality". I don't know that I could get away with saying such things nowadays, even (especially?) in that publication -- not without a lot of explication, at any rate. The Malickites have had the run of the place for quite some time. :)

Well, but here's the downside ...

The people who love Malick will alweys have more and more-interesting things to say than the people who dislike him. Not only is that almost true-by-definition of any artist, but it's particularly true of men like Malick and (careful to pick on someone I love) Dreyer -- people who make opaque films that throw roadblocks before the primary act of enjoyment. But my credo is: A movie that imposes on you the obligation that you HAVE to see it twice acquires a reciprocal obligation to be a movie you WANT to see twice. Malick's last two films so bored me they left very little other impression on my mind and no desire to sit through them again to see if they get better with repeat views. And that's HIS shortcoming, not mine.

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But having academic expertise in Heidegger does not (a priori, anyway) immunize one against making something airy-fairy. Vulgarized and/or popularized forms of Heidegger do exist, especially in New Age stuff.

Hey, as long as we agree about the coda, that is what counts here.

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Victor, care to enlighten me on war films that don't put you to sleep/that you do like and/or appreciate? I understand that this is probably outside the scope of this thread, but I would love to hear your take on war films that "work" for you (unlike THIN RED LINE). Thanks.

I should have said this earlier -- this is how poor my memory has gotten on TTRL. I remember the "taking the hill sequence" (45 minutes, is it?) as actually being tolerable to better than tolerable. But the pretentious guff and lack of characterization on either side of it was narcotizing.

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vjmorton wrote:

: But my credo is: A movie that imposes on you the obligation that you HAVE to see it twice acquires a reciprocal obligation to be a movie you WANT to see twice.

As it happens, I'm pretty sure I DID see the movie twice before writing that article. (It appeared in the April issue, to coincide with the Oscars, and the film came out in December, so I almost certainly had time to see it twice before my deadline.) I think I would have been too nervous to write about the film for a magazine as high-profile as that without a second viewing.

And as I recall, I spent the first two hours of that second viewing thinking, "Hey, this is better than I remember," and then the third hour thinking, "Oh, yeah, THAT'S right, THIS is why I remember it being so boring."

FWIW, I have always gotten a kick out of the fact that Rosenbaum seemed to feel obliged to extol Malick's film over Spielberg's back when he reviewed it, and yet even he could say that Malick's detachment from the subject matter left him feeling bored.

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I am fine with philosophy majors talking like philosophy majors; working-class enlisted men, not so much (and also being indistinguishable from the officers).

Having been deployed to Iraq for a year in the army, I can testify to the fact that working class enlisted men do think deeply and ask some of the bigger life questions when confronted with war and death. Guys I would have never expected to have a deep conversation with about God, would suddenly ask me a question in the middle of a long, tiring mission (or a long graveyard shift guard duty) and we'd talk about the big things for hours on end.

Education or how many philosophy classes you took in college has no bearing on this. Being an officer does not mean you are more educated than the enlisted men. Malick is an acquired taste. His films are designed to be slow, thoughtful, and reflective. However, if you are a human being, awareness of the beauty in creation around you, should, at some point, cause you to be slow, thoughtful and reflective for once. Again, memories of seeing this and talking to regular working-class guys, who suddenly found ourselves under a bright Middle Eastern night sky in the desert, deepened my appreciation for Malick the next time I saw The Thin Red Line. The number of things Malick gets right in this film are amazing.

I refuse to allow Malick to be criticized on the grounds that people (or poor and uneducated people) just don't think that deeply. If they are awakened to anything at all spiritual in their lives, they will think deeply, for a little while at least (in other words, if they have a soul). And if there's a few things that cause one of God's creatures to start thinking and questioning things - it's the beauty of creation, or the contemplation of love, life, and death.

Do not, I repeat, do not criticize Malick, or say that it is his fault for not engaging you. Remember, there are people who are bored out of their minds and unengaged when taken to something like the Grand Canyon. That Malick has more skill in making films than probably over 90% of other Hollywood directors is not disputed. That Malick makes God's creation almost another character in his films is also pretty accepted. But his films are not just beautiful to look at, they are interested in thinking and reflecting on "the big questions." If that bores you, then then majority of Hollywood has plenty of other **** for you to immerse yourself in instead, to your hearts content.

Edited by Persiflage

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I thought of ignoring this, but decided to ... well ... respond in the spirit in which it was offered

I am fine with philosophy majors talking like philosophy majors; working-class enlisted men, not so much (and also being indistinguishable from the officers).

Having been deployed to Iraq for a year in the army, I can testify to the fact that working class enlisted men do think deeply and ask some of the bigger life questions when confronted with war and death.

THE THIN RED LINE is set, to the extent it's set anywhere other than inside Terrence Malick's head (doubtful), during World War II. Therefore, the relevance of experience from 60 years later -- after universalization of high-school education, the normalization of college education, the GI Bill, etc. -- is ... unclear at best. **Especially in 1942-43** with a drafted Army and a West Point trained officer corps (you ever wonder why West Point bears so much resemblance in so many ways to a liberal-arts college) there were HUGE education gaps between the officers and enlisted corps.

More importantly, I didn't exactly say I thought Malick's voiceover was deep thought. In fact, I think the opposite -- his nature-worship is rather shallow. But it IS the kind of pseudo Deep Thought that only a philosophy major would think of having (in 1945).

Guys I would have never expected to have a deep conversation with about God, would suddenly ask me a question in the middle of a long, tiring mission (or a long graveyard shift guard duty) and we'd talk about the big things for hours on end.

Undoubtedly. And yet, no matter how realistic the scenario, footage of that conversation almost certainly would have made for dire, dire DIRE drama. Like with sex, there is nothing as fascinating as a conversation one is a part of and nothing as boring as one you are not.

Malick is an acquired taste.

Remember that later, when you get all self-righteous.

His films are designed to be slow, thoughtful, and reflective. However, if you are a human being, awareness of the beauty in creation around you, should, at some point, cause you to be slow, thoughtful and reflective for once.

THE THIN RED LINE has exactly 1 1/2 thoughts -- "gosh, isn't nature beautiful" and [the half] "why does Man eff it up with War." I'm sorry ... that is thin, thin gruel for three hours. It also happens to be cliched twaddle, though I guess this means I have no soul. No wonder you like THE THIN RED LINE. I'm with Herzog, nature is not beautiful (though man can make it look that way), unless it be the case by definition independent of any and all observation. (And am I free to call that kind of a-priorism "wack.")

Simply pointing a camera and gawking at The Beauty of It All is lazy, unempirical thought and more importantly ... it's not relevant to a film's quality anyway. You are confusing a film with its subject matter. Malick's film is boring, not because nature is ugly, but because showing nothing but that for 90-100 minutes (and never straying far from that for the other hour) is boring. I got the point within five and unless you've created memorable persons or characters, the actual meat of drama, this unrepentant urbanite will lose interest in ten.

By this logic, the film couldn't have failed once the cameras were on location. By this logic, Disney nature specials are the shizznit.

I refuse to allow Malick to be criticized on the grounds that people (or poor and uneducated people) just don't think that deeply.

Who said it was your right to allow it? If you think any of this sounds like anything from the mouth of an enlisted man from the America of 1945 (or from many officers, though it's again Malick's fault that we often can't tell), I'll just wave to you from Earth to whatever planet Terrence Malick has been declared God of.

"What's this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?"

"Oh, my soul, let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes, look out at the things you've made."

"Who's killin' us? ("The [expletive] Japs," any WW2 vet would have answered -- vjm) Robbing us of life and light. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?"

"Why should I be afraid to die? I belong to you. If I go first, I'll wait for you there, on the other side of the dark waters. Be with me now."

"I'm dying. Slow as a tree."

If you can read or hear this kind of over-egged self-consciously serious Transcendentalism in the context of a WW2 movie without laughing or wanting to interject, "oh, come ON ..." then to quote Jeffrey Overstreet, "Sigh. I am sad for you."

Do not, I repeat, do not criticize Malick, or say that it is his fault for not engaging you.

I will criticize Malick for not engaging me if I bloody well want to and if he bloody well didn't. And it IS an artist's responsibility to engage you. Remember how you said he was an acquired taste ... that was awesome.

That Malick has more skill in making films than probably over 90% of other Hollywood directors is not disputed.

Of course it is. I dispute it. And having read about his half-assed working methods, I now think he's just an emperor with no clothes.

That Malick makes God's creation almost another character in his films is also pretty accepted.

"God's creation" (and the G-word is actually redundant; there is nothing that I recall inconsistent with nature-worship) cannot be a character unless it has a soul or rationality.

But his films are not just beautiful to look at, they are interested in thinking and reflecting on "the big questions."

And again ... film vs. subject matter. Having thoughts and reflections on "the big questions" doesn't equal a good dramatic film unless the thoughts and reflections are themselves jaw-droppingly original (in TTRL, they certainly are not), are woven into a compelling drama that could stand on its own (in this case, possible in principle, though hardly likely -- there are few or no real characters in TTRL), or arrived at obliquely or implicatively (again, certainly not the case here -- I got the point within five minutes. TTRL could not be more obvious.)

If that bores you, then then majority of Hollywood has plenty of other **** for you to immerse yourself in instead, to your hearts content.

Y'know ... this phrase was why I initially thought of not responding (though the attitude is implicit in nearly every other sentence Persiflage writes). It can only come from a profound ignorance of who I am and what kinds of films I like.

But the Malick fanboy's knee jerked anyway, so there's no point in not saying it. I won't pretend that my distaste for TTRL and Malick has nothing whatever to do with critical defenders who make statements like that at those of us unconvinced of his mastery. Liking Malick, for at least one person here (and he's not the first I've come across), seems to serve as an aesthetic version of "conspicuous consumption," proof of how refined one is and (for example) how Hollywoof schlockmeister Steven Spielberg and his updated John Wayne film are mere popcorn for the stupid masses while Malick makes Art for we few discerning types. Veblen, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

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But my credo is: A movie that imposes on you the obligation that you HAVE to see it twice acquires a reciprocal obligation to be a movie you WANT to see twice.

Vic, I had no idea your credo included a reciprocal obligation! I didn't realize you acknowledged even the existence of films that have to be seen twice. For what it's worth, I really want to see Film Socialism a few more times. ;)

Persiflage, there are so many filmmakers who are able to make a character of God's creation, and some of them are able to do it differently each time. To me, Malick has become one of those singers with a jaw-droppingly beautiful voice who makes every song sound exactly like the one before it. I'm sure I'll see The Tree of Life, I'm sure it'll be filled with one gorgeous image after another, and I'm sure I'll start checking my watching an hour into it.

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But my credo is: A movie that imposes on you the obligation that you HAVE to see it twice acquires a reciprocal obligation to be a movie you WANT to see twice.

Vic, I had no idea your credo included a reciprocal obligation! I didn't realize you acknowledged even the existence of films that have to be seen twice.

The two things I've teased you about and I think you're alluding to was your giving two festival slots to a film sight-unseen and your reluctance to express at least a judgment after a single viewing.

The former I felt a little guilty about after the fact because as Robert pointed out (after I said, "that's a critical approach for Claire Denis's mom"), you almost certainly would not get a chance to see 35 RHUMS in Knoxville.

The latter is not inconsistent with acknowledging the existence of films you have to see twice because of the second half -- you have to WANT to see it twice. That's consistent with an immediate judgement or a judgement based on a single viewing.

The second foreign film I ever saw was Fellini's 8 1/2 and at the end of it, after my dad had said "what was that [implicitly: crap] all about." I said "I have no idea," with the biggest goofiest grin I think I've ever worn after watching a film I could hardly make head or tail of. I never was in doubt re judgment -- I was loving what I was seeing.

For what it's worth, I really want to see Film Socialism a few more times. ;)

And I am confident, sight unseen, that I would hate every effing minute of FILM SOCIALISM. If someone I trust says "it's an absolutely nothing like anything Godard has ever made," and manages to describe it in terms than make it seem more appetizing than repeated kicks to the balls ... I'll be on board.

Edited by vjmorton

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vjmorton wrote:

: "God's creation" (and the G-word is actually redundant; there is nothing that I recall inconsistent with nature-worship) cannot be a character unless it has a soul or rationality.

Just for the record, I have long, long been leery of the expression "God's creation". Seems to me like it is often used by Christians critics who want to legitimize a nature-themed movie for Christian consumption.

: I'm with Herzog, nature is not beautiful . . .

Heh. From that CT article of mine:

The many pretty images—the camera frequently stares up at the trees or sky—are supposed to be thoughtful and poetic, but they come off as pretentious and naive. In one intense battle scene, Malick pauses to show a wounded bird struggling along the ground, as if to say that only men (and out-of-touch-with-nature white men, at that) are capable of causing such harm. (Has Malick never owned a cat?)

See also Woody Allen's remarks in Love and Death about nature being "an enormous restaurant". Though I do admittedly think it can be a BEAUTIFUL restaurant at times. :)

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I thought of ignoring this, but decided to ... well ... respond in the spirit in which it was offered

Discussion redirected off the Tree of Life thread to here.

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Reading the Malick-naysayers' views, I feel like I must have seen very different films, because I can't think of many films in which the imagery, dialogue, interior monologues, and music work together more powerfully to convey epic journeys of spiritual inquiry.

But I have no desire to start smashing things and throwing fits that other people are frustrated or bored by it all. Sometimes, you just find a filmmaker who speaks a language you understand, and those who think it sounds like jibberish or baby talk of wishy-washy New-Ageism can't be blamed for what they do or don't get out of it.

There are plenty of beloved filmmakers whose significance escapes me, but I don't want to start insulting them in front of folks for whom those films continue to be a meaningful part of the journey.

I hope the term "fanboy" isn't aimed at me, because it suggests an irrational enthusiasm. I'm not a big fan of Badlands, but then I haven't seen it in a while. Days of Heaven has some extraordinary beauty, but it's not one of my all-time favorite films. The Thin Red Line is growing on me with repeated viewings, and The New World was one of those unforgettable, pinnacle movie events for me on par with 2001 or Apocalypse Now from the first viewing. I'm completely prepared for Tree of Life to be a lesser experience, but I'm hopeful.

As I certainly don't relate to the naysayers experiences with Malick's films, and as I have no desire to start shouting about what people should experience and think about these films, I'm just going to depart this debate. Sometimes the conversation takes on a quality that would interfere with and distract from the viewing experience, instead of illuminating it, and I'd rather not have those echoes in my head.

Edited by Overstreet

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JPod:

. . . I won’t belabor the point about the nonsense dripping from this trailer.

I did want to point out one peculiarity, though. Thirty-four seconds into the proceedings, in a scene set on a small-town American street in the 1950s, the soundtrack swells with the sound of … Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. Much as I appreciate the subliminal Zionism, I suspect it’s entirely unintentional. But funny.

I don't know much about either Tree of Life or 'Hatikvah' beyond their titles, but if I had to speculate, I could think of a reason or two why the two things might be linked... starting with the seemingly obvious Genesis allusions inherent in a phrase like "tree of life"...

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There are plenty of beloved filmmakers whose significance escapes me, but I don't want to start insulting them in front of folks for whom those films continue to be a meaningful part of the journey.

You're a bit too kind, Jeffrey. To quote Henry II in THE LION IN WINTER: "You haven't got the feel of this at all, lad. Use all your voices. When I bellow, bellow back." I think the filmmakers--and their fans--can take it.

As I certainly don't relate to the naysayers experiences with Malick's films, and as I have no desire to start shouting about what people should experience and think about these films, I'm just going to depart this debate.

Shame, Jeffrey. Given that you're one of the biggest cheerleaders for the film, I was hoping you would stay and stand your ground.

I'm not a Malick "nay-sayer," in the sense that I can't really echo vjmorton's thoughts on this one. But I am glad to see the conversation give some voice the nay-sayers, if only because I sit in the middle and am still trying to sort out what I think of Malick. I'll probably end up somewhere in the middle; I think there are aspects of Malick's films that are sentimental and redundant, but I'm not convinced that that those aspects damn the films outright.

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I've voiced plenty of enthusiasm and interpretation of Malick over the last few years, here, at CT, at Image, and in Through a Screen Darkly. No sense in repeating myself. And it sounds like that has only frustrated some folks here (giving them the sense that the "Malick-ites" have "the run of the place"). If I'm unpersuasive, I'm unpersuasive. But I find that these films really do minister to me, and that is such a rare blessing that I want to protect the experience without getting riled by the dismissals of others.

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Overstreet wrote:

: And it sounds like that has only frustrated some folks here (giving them the sense that the "Malick-ites" have "the run of the place").

I thought you weren't writing for CT any more? I was thinking of Brett McCracken when I said that as much as anyone else. (I sat next to him during the roundtable interviews on the junket for The New World, some time before he began writing for CT as I recall, and for what it's worth, he and I were among the few defenders of the film within that room. So how "frustrated" can I be, really?)

: But I find that these films really do minister to me, and that is such a rare blessing that I want to protect the experience without getting riled by the dismissals of others.

Well, critiques aren't necessarily "insults" or "dismissals". Though certainly, overpraise can sometimes tend to invite overcriticism. It's our job as critics to try to strike the right balance.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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