Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2006)

If you cut the first two letters off of the second word in the title of Asia Argento's child-abuse opus, you'd get at the core of its failure. Heart is, for better and worse, a visually sumptuous film. Asia has clearly inherited her father Dario's extraordinary eye for composition, and for this film she's adopted a visual strategy akin to a Peter Greenaway film -- each stage in the long, ugly journey of young Jeremiah has a different look than anything that precedes or follows. Argento starts with low angles and natural light when Jeremiah is reunited with his mother Sarah (played by Argento, in a striking bit of anti-narcissism), then pushes into sickly florescence and angular shadows once they hit the road and Asia bounces from man to man. A narrative detour in which Jeremiah is sent to live with his hyper-religious grandparents (one of whom is played by Peter Fonda!) is full of clean whites and rich browns, warmer but no less menacing than the previous stops in Jeramiah's life; then there's the climactic bit in the supermarket, with both Sarah and Jeremiah strung out on drugs and wearing jet black that cuts through the harsh white market lighting. This is some fabulously seedy image-making, but there comes a point where it all begins to feel too determined, too overaesthetized. Rather than draw us deeper into the horrible world in which Jeremiah lives, Asia's artistic prowess overwhelms the material; the extreme stylization made sense in her previous Scarlet Diva, since her character in that lived in a world saturated by art, but here it merely serves to soften and tamp down the torment. There's intimations that Argento may be aiming for a super-fucked-up variety of black comedy (i.e. the scene with Michael Pitt and the huge pile of coal), and I kind of wish she'd gone whole hog with that approach -- that would be the only venue in which I could imagine the uber-stylization and the thick dollops of religious symbolism ("Who're you to be sitting in judgment of me?") working with, rather than against, the material. Also: Asia's performance is nothing if not fierce, but she should never attempt a Southern accent.

Grade: C


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