BERLIN (Reuters) - American cult director Terrence Malick puts a lot of women on screen in various stages of dress and undress for his near two-hour-long "Knight of Cups", a look at a male Hollywood star played by Christian Bale who has it all, but feels empty.
Malick makes a habit of not attending press conferences for his premieres, so it was left to the cast to answer the most obvious question: what's up with Bale's character Rick who has the good life but wanders out in the desert alone, seeking some mystical link to his lost inner child?
Bale and Natalie Portman, one of Rick's many lovers, said they weren't told much about what the film was about -- Bale said he never had any written dialogue, forcing him to respond in character to other actors who were scripted.
But Malick had briefed him on who Rick was, and Bale said he was a lost soul, despite his success.
"I think it's somebody who didn't realize he needed help, you know he's somebody whose dreams and desires have actually come to fruition, he's somebody who's succeeded at exactly what he planned on doing ... (but) he sees that it seems to be a continual repetition rather than a genuine soulful feeling of satisfaction," Bale said.
"So you get this man who starts on a journey for something -- we don't know what it is ... something he's looking forward to and backwards to as well," Bale said.
Throughout the film, women are depicted as temptresses who have led Rick astray from the goal his father has set for him, of being better than his progenitor.
But women are also seen as salvation.
Malick films in dance and pole-dancing clubs, at fashion shoots poolside at a luxury villa overlooking the city and at glitzy parties. He also shoots in a medical ward where Rick's first wife played by Cate Blanchett, from whom he splits because they can't have children, tends to the poor and homeless.
"Life's a goddess," one of the male characters says in voiceovers that are the main source of dialogue.
"I felt that we had such incredibly soulful and intelligent actresses who were playing those roles that it was clear that these were the most important people in his (Rick's) life," Bale said.
Portman added: "I feel that the main character, Rick, his experience, his journey, sort of reflects in his relationships with these women and of course part of that is reflecting the great diversity of the types of people, both male and female, you find in Los Angeles."
Malick, who has only made a handful of films, famously took 20 years between making his second picture "Days of Heaven" in 1978 and third "The Thin Red Line" in 1998. His 2011 film, "The Tree of Life", won the prestigious Palme d'Or in Cannes.
"Knight of Cups" is one of 19 in contention for the top Golden Bear prize in Berlin awarded on Saturday.
Editing by Crispian Balmer