TIFF Report - The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, Calvaire
It's the last day of film viewing for me at this year's festival which makes me a sad young gent but I'm ushering it out with a four film viewing day. I'm half way through it now, holed up in an internet cafe with a four hour lull between films and eating candy that will surely rot my teeth while singing the metal songs swimming in my head from last night's Midnight Madness screening of "Zebraman". Ok, but really, I should talk about the films. I had high hopes for Calvaire but, like my first time being intimate, tall hopes and pleasure were lost - quickly. Going into The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things having already read the novel by J.T. Leroy I was prepared for a tough subject material watch.
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things captures the story of a young boy named Jeremiah whose drugged out, emotionally unstable mother Sarah had him taken away from her when she was fifteen but is awarded custody of him again now that she is twenty three. What transpires is a rugged look at his road to adulthood both with Sarah and while living in the home of his grandparents and uncles. He experiences both physical and emotional abuse, abandonment, abuse of love and guidance from a strict fundamentalist Christian home, rape, and gender issues all at the hands of family members and various other off-characters that are literally picked up on the way throughout his tumbling spiral downwards.
This film, based on a novel of 10 interlocking stories by writer J.T. Leroy, is a truthful look into the lives of both a mother and son and the effects of the environment that surrounds each of them. Asia Argento who directs this film and co-wrote the screenplay also stars, delivering a disturbing Sarah with the story of her own weakness, frailty and hopelessness coming out through Argento. Jeremiah is played by several different boys through out the film - none better than the others - but you still are left gasping at the view through the lens of his life. I haven't seen the first film Argento directed (this being her second) but she seems to have a control of relating the environment. The effects are sometimes over the top and smirkable but this appears to be the intent of Argento in creating scenes through the imagination of a young boy. Laced with cameos from Marilyn Mason, Winona Ryder, Peter Fonda and a supporting cast of "hey I know you" (check them out here) the emotion of the book is excellently carried over into film. This is a part of North American culture that I believe is left relatively untold seriously through film - and clearly why that is, is the public's reaction to the story content. The reality shown here may be brutal but is pretty straight and honest to the audience at the same time.
Ahhh......now Calvaire. I viewed this film on Tuesday night after working twelve hours at my "real" job and it's taken me this long to write about it primarily because I seriously was into forgetting it. Aside from Zebraman last night, it seems as though I have been let down by the Midnight Madness screenings this year at the TIFF. Last year was Ju-On, the year before that there was Bubba Ho-Tep, but this year...Calvaire? Ugh.
Calvaire has a great idea to its credit. A traveling, aspiring musician breaks down in a wooded village (I'm assuming it's Belgium, never really told) and has to take refuge in an empty inn inhabited by an unusual inn keeper and surrounded by various whacked out villagers either searching for a lost animal or “knowing" their local animals in a biblical way. Soon the inn keeper becomes progressively crazier, believing the traveling musician is his long departed wife and goes to great lengths to keep the musician there by tying him up, destroying his van, locking him into a room, even nailing him to a fence like cross. I'm sure lots of stuff kept happening - but this movie was putting me to sleep. Sleep, I say! Ok, I did watch the entire film but I was watch-checking the entire time - not a good sign. I needed those sticks Todd used to poke himself in the eyes while watching "Dead Birds".
Where do I start.........the pacing of the film was horrible with long gaps between anything interesting making it harder for me not to think about the list of groceries I needed to pick up in the morning. Aside from, say, fifteen minutes of the film the comparisons to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead were completely undeserved - because those films were good. A lack of any decent dialogue and a love for weird-for-the-sake-of-weird only inhibited this film more from being decent. I don't mind weird, no - I really, really like weird in film - but having no correlation with the story or characters just makes it annoying. To the director I say this - this probably wasn't the best first feature film to put out (it isn't the worst either, to give some credit) but honestly, work with the fifteen minutes of salvageable material from your film and you could just surprise me with something to come. Please surprise me - another disappointment will just cause tears.