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|Index||13 reviews in total|
Danish director has directed a marriage drama cast with four excellent
Swedish actors. From beginning to end it is beautifully filmed,
strongly acted and well written. The story involves two middle-aged
married couples who live in lush houses, have good jobs and are set in
their ways, perhaps too much so for some or all of them. The dinner
conversation when the two couples spend an evening together is the
elegant starter of the infidelity drama that follows. This is tough and
sometimes excruciating drama, though it does have pieces of playful
dialogue throughout; there is also a dose of sweetener added at the
end, but interpret it as you wish.
The settings are restricted to a few rooms of their two houses and go along with a style of photography and direction that insists on intimacy and requires precision on the part of the performers. The chamber drama style has been compared to certain moments of Bergman's career, usually favourably. There are also some surprising moments where the director draws attention to himself, for instance by allowing the actors to look straight into the camera; I think this helps keep the film engaging for the interested viewer.
A sidenote on the film title. It's possible that this double-metaphor romantic cliché is meant as some sort of irony on the part of the director, but it refers to nothing in the movie and almost kept me from wanting to see the it. It's already hard enough for films like these to survive in theatres without sticking nonsense titles on them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie on the premier at the Berlinale Festival and liked it
a lot. It felt a little like watching a theater play: only four
characters and two settings. It showed some really good acting of all
four -well known Swedish - actors. Especially with all the close ups
and the lack of much "physical acting". The story has a really clever
twist right at the beginning which sets the course for the following
The two couples - Susanna and Lars / Ulf and Ann - have a discussion over dinner about cheating. Lars and Ann say that they never even thought about cheating and that they cannot approve of it it any case. Susanna and Ulf say that they might approve of it, when one really falls in love with someone else. They say one has to follow ones heart even if it ends your marriage. Lars and Ann are shocked that their spouses think that way. They fear that they cannot trust their partners anymore. That and the lack of passion in their relationships leads to an affair between Lars and Ann. They really fall in love because they understand each other and finally get the affection they longed for along time. Susanne and Ulf don't suspect anything, but soon Lars confesses the affair to his wife Susanna. Despite what Susanna said on that first dinner night (Follow your heart even if you have to sacrifice your marriage!), she doesn't show any understanding for her husband and her friend now that she is being betrayed...see for yourself how that ends. I don't know if I liked the ending - it sure is not what you expect. This movie can be compared to Mike Nichols' "Closer", it's just more realistic.
It was a long time ago you saw that many staring eyes as in this
Swedish movie. You thought this kind of acting ended with "Lord of the
But this is quite another film. Two couples in their middle-ages are best friends. Until something happens. It gets more and more complicated, the lies are more or less clever, until the bubble bursts.
Catastrophe is always around the corner here and the viewer feels as much tension as the characters. It's rather creepy, but acted in such an unrealistic way, that you sometimes laugh there you shouldn't. An ambitious try however. A relation story which is very far from all the tiresome comedies you watch about the subject.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What happens when all of one's worst fears come true? Is it possible
that pursuing one's dream could cause this to happen? In the film
Himlen's Hjarta, Director Simon Staho focuses his lens exclusively on
two married couples and uses their raw emotional force to present a
microcosmic view on infidelity, mid-life crises, and unfulfilled
dreams. In a plot dripping with intensity, two amicable married couples
engage in a conversation about adultery which taps into the deepest
fears of Lars and Ann, the two soft-spoken, unassuming members of each
pair. In consoling each other over fear of their respective partners'
infidelity, Lars and Ann ironically initiate an affair which quickly
spirals into a maelstrom of betrayal and emotion. Through unique film
techniques, subtle symbolism, and the exquisite facial expressions of
the four actors, Himlen's Hjarta strikes close to home with most
viewers, and is a poignant foray into the heaven and hell of marriage.
Himlen's Hjarta single-minded focus on the relationships between the four main characters is enhanced and emphasized by the narrow filming technique which focuses on minuscule details such as a face or a pair of socks on the floor. One example is series of shots where items of Lars and Ann's clothing are shown on the floor, increasingly becoming more intimate in the progression from shoes to boxers and thong. These few screen shots carry monumental implications in the lives of the four characters in the film, and the elegant simplicity through which it is illustrated is a far cry from the stark nudity and sexuality often portrayed in Nordic films. Throughout the course of the plot, viewers do not catch a single glimpse of city life, nature, or even a garden in the backyard. Neighbors are nonexistent, and even Susanna and Lars's daughter, Elin, remains an ambiguous character who serves a vital role but is never manifested in the film. Himlen's Hjarta is indisputably anthropocentric, and the film technique supports this idea by centering for the majority of the time on the expressive eyes and faces of the actors.
In addition to highlighting the anthropocentrism of the film, the narrow-minded filming technique also allows for minute details to take on symbolic significance. For example, in the opening scene where the amicable married couples are sitting down for dinner, Lars and Ann sit on the same side of the table and are both dressed in innocent, unassuming light blue. By emphasizing their similarity, the subtlety of clothing and seat placement foreshadow the deep connection they will soon establish. Wine is also a symbol of fellowship, and reappears throughout the film as an indicator of upper-class culture and medium for social interaction. The recurrent theme of heaven and hell, which is significantly featured in the title "Heaven's Heart" is also cleverly interwoven through details such as Susanna's angry "Go to hell" and Ann's intuitive line when preparing fish for dinner: "let's chop the head off this devil." Even short, seemingly insignificant lines in the film convey hidden meanings which parallel dishonesty of the relationships portrayed.
None of the symbolism or filming techniques would be effective without powerful acting and facial expression. The minimalist casting of only four actors results in a focus that is entirely focused without anything to detract from the character's actions, lines and emotions. In a stark contrast to Hollywood use of distractions, such as special effects or sweeping landscape shots, Himlen's Hjarta is unwaveringly focused on the central relationships in the film, creating an unparalleled intensity.
One intriguing aspect of the film is the progression from abstract discussion and dreams into harsh reality. In a twist of fate, Susanna's adulterous dream about Henrik, and Ulf fantasizing about the waitress in Tuscany transforms into the nightmare of Lars and Ann's affair, ripping the couples' friendships apart. Ironically, the end of the film depicts a hopeful note of reconciliation and wisdom between the characters. The final scene, portraying Susanna and Lars holding hands, sharply contrasts the impersonal divorce proceedings depicted at the beginning of the film. Despite the tumultuous plot progression, there is an overall upward trend towards what may ultimately lead to healthier marital relations between Ulf and Ann and Lars and Susanna. It is interesting to wonder if several years down the road, the two couples will be able to patch their friendship up. If the marriages managed to emerge from the catastrophic affair, will Ann and Susanna , or Lars and Ulf, ever be able to forgive each other and restore their relationships? Perhaps some wounds will never heal, but regardless of the outcome, Himlen's Hjarta is a hellish nightmare which manages to portray the realistic issues of marriage through an intensely-focused lens.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Heavens Heart is the close examination of the relationship between two
couples, and four best friends. Staho relies on dialogue heavily to
expose the love, passion, and friendship that come with old friends and
marriages of twenty years. The scenes are simple, if not artfully
designed and help contribute to the focus of conversation, subtext, and
emotion displayed by the characters.
In the opening scene, the two main protagonists Lars and Susanna confront the camera and audience with their steeled stares. Lars lies in bed, while Susanna sits in an attorney's office on the day they get divorced. Lars imagines this is what Susanna will do when she finds out about him and Ann. He sees himself leaving as Susanna contemplatively before taking her own departure. When this scene occurs in reality, it is Susanna who is first to leave. Lars did not foresee exactly how sure his wife would be when she found out, and it was him who was left thinking on his decision.
Staho wastes no time in bring up the issues between Ulf and Ann, while both Susanna and Lars are steadfast in their belief. The couples sit across from their respective partners. Ann and Lars sit together in blue while Ulf and Susanna contrast each other with creme and brown. Both couples seem to match better with the opposite spouses and as the topic of adultery is breached it is clear that something will occur between one of the pairs. Blue tends to be seen as a loyal color, so when Ann and Lars begin to sympathize with each other, I was not surprised. The pure confidence of Susanna and Ulf contrasted with the quiet acceptance of Lars and Ann led me to believe that they would discover something more than the life they had tolerated.
Both couples are mirror images of each other. There is love, deep love with both of them but this love has gotten lost admits the trials of life. Both couples express a need to escape, Ulf and Ann recently returned from Tuscany and Susanna and Lars planning a vacation. For me, this love is represented in the wine they drink. Beginning with the clink of their champagne glasses, in a toast to friendship, the quickly move to a heavy red. Their conversation in addition, changes to heavier topics. For the rest of the film, both couples only drink white. Red appears again at the very end when Lars has returned and Susanna will apparently take him back. While there are many possibilities for this, one possible explanation is that red tends to be dryer, less fruity, and leaves a deep stain. White wine tends to hold the reputation of fruity, light, and of course does not stain as permanently as red, if it stains at all.
Love is like the red, since it leaves a lasting impact and is not always sweet or easy, where passion is the white. Passion is sweet but short and does not linger in the same way. Unfortunately both couples had lost their passion for their significant other and this journey of emotions chronicled in Heavens Heart exposes how love persevered with hope that the passion has also been removed.
The camera work, like the sets, is simple but powerful. The actors are greatly relied on to portray the emotion and underlying feeling of the movie. Many shots are close up, focusing on the face, leaving a lot unsaid for the audience to pick up on. When the camera does leave the close up shots, it is briefly, to expose the space between the characters. The space between the characters is vitally important to the story line. Any time big conversations are occurring, Staho relies on a straight front camera angle instead of the over the shoulder method.
Although I could see this movie being very popular in Nordic countries, I am not sure it would gain much traction in the U.S. While the characters themselves are interesting, I felt myself distanced by the conventional way in which it was shot. At times it seemed to be a Swedish soap opera. Subtle music played giving context to some of the scenes, but did not capture me emotionally. Unfortunately I felt the four-person cast, while all talented actors, was not of enough interest to deal with the rather mundane subject of adultery. Since the audience had no "happy" time to reference it was hard to sympathize with their struggles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It has often been said that you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Heaven's Heart, directed by Simon Staho, presents the stories of two
couples who have maintained a close friendship for many years and
appear to enjoy all the happiness that life offers, but who now face
serious marital problems. Lars (Mikael Persbrandt) and Susanna (Lena
Endre) have been married for roughly twenty years and have one child
together. The film begins with their divorce hearing, but after only a
few minutes we jump back in time 9 months to understand the events that
lead to this situation. Their friends, Ulf (Jakob Eklund) and Ann
(Maria Lundqvist), are over for dinner one night when the subject of
infidelity casually enters the conversation as gossip about one of
Lars' coworkers. Each of the four characters have clearly defined
opinions on the subject, leading to an interesting discussion.
The film presents the themes of dreaming and finding happiness. The opening scene of the film contains heavy dialogue and intense questions about desire and love. Susanna asks the question of whether love is about passion or sensibility. From much of the dialogue, it becomes clear early on that Lars and Ann seem to share a similar view on the practical nature of love and the strict guidelines that should be followed in relation to affairs and transgressions. Therefore, immense irony occurs in the film when the two characters who seem to be the most conservative in their thoughts on adultery begin engaging in an affair with each other. Both characters are looking for something more than their current life situation offers to them - they want to be involved in something that is meaningful.
This film also presents the idea that we are all searching for true happiness. Our time on Earth is limited and therefore we do not have time to waste being content when we could be truly happy. Through their brief affair, Lars and Ann decide to make a change in their lives and act on what they think will bring them joy. And for a time it does, however this joy is short lived. In the end Lars is a regretful man who wants desperately to go back to the life he left and Ann returns to her husband, building a life in the country with a man that she so desperately longs to stay connected to.
Heaven's Heart features particularly stylized cinematography and other technical elements. The film is centered around the dialogue that occurs between characters. The dialogue is harsh and direct, illustrating the raw emotion of the characters. The importance of the dialogue in the film is also stressed due to the absence of music and background noise. Dramatic, and often repetitive, instrumental music is present within the film, but only during transitions. The silence sets a serious tone, and viewers are given no choice but to listen to the conflicts that unfold throughout the film. The film features close-ups of the characters' faces, highlighting their emotions of anger, frustration, bitterness, and disappointment. The camera often goes from showing one partner's face to showing the other partner's face. This technical decision allow Staho to pin the characters against each other, enhancing the feeling of animosity between them. This also adds a rather serious and dramatic tone to the film.
Simon Staho is well known for his distinct and somewhat experimental camera and filming techniques such as shooting in with distinct angles. In that regard, this film is not exception to this generalization. This film focuses on intimate relationships and deeply rooted issues that can cause strains in people's ability to engage with others. These themes are common throughout his work and are also highlighted in his films Nu (2004) and Daisy Diamond (2007).
Heaven's Heart is a successful film in its complex and honest portrayal of love. The characters discuss difficult topics such as love, relationships, adultery, and the goals and dreams they have for their future. While listening to the couples argue about topics like this can be disheartening and uncomfortable to listen to, it is refreshing to see a movie that takes the focus off people being perfect. Whereas characters in many typical Hollywood movies seem to have all the answers, the characters in this film clearly have much to discover about themselves and about each other. The film is powerful in that it has the ability to cause self-reflection in the viewer, leaving them something to think about even after the film is over.
"If you don't know someone after 20 years, how will you ever
" This is
the big question that the movie Heaven's Heart asks the audience to
face if you can't really understand your spouse after 20 years of
marriage, how can you ever truly understand anyone at all?
The film Heaven's Heart begins with the audience seeing the main couple of the film, Susanna and Lars, getting a divorce and they have no idea why. The film then flashes back to 6 months earlier to a dinner party between Susanna & Lars and their best friends Ann & Ulf. At this dinner party the topic of infidelity is brought up because a colleague of Lars has left his wife and kids for a much younger woman. Susanna and Ulf both defend the man saying that if he has really fallen in love then it is much better that he should leave his wife and kids then staying and being miserable. Lars and Ann both argue strongly against infidelity, saying that they would never want to risk everything they have and they wouldn't ever consider it. This division of opinion between Lars & Ann and their spouses brings the two together in their realization that they both greatly fear that their spouse will find someone else and leave them. The connection that Lars & Ann make eventually leads them to beginning an affair. In the end, although Lars & Ann have previously claimed to be in love, Ann ends up renewing her vows with her husband Ulf, and although they are divorced it appears that Lars & Susanna will also be reuniting despite everything they have been through.
It is disappointing that a movie with a very interesting premise and a group of seemingly strong and complex characters would turn out to be so mundane. At the end of the day everything turned out the same. While both Ann & Ulf and Susanna & Lars have suffered great trials in their relationships during the year that the movie spans they both end up back with their spouses exactly where they began. I thought that I was going to be able to be proud of at least a couple of the characters in the film, but in the end I turned out to be hugely disappointed by everyone except for Elin, Lars & Susanna's daughter who is never actually shown on screen.
Ulf is a player from the start, always discussing with Lars if he should pursue an affair with another woman. While he has never been unfaithful to Ann in action it seems that his heart has wondered off more than a couple times.
Ann is a tragically insecure woman who has lied to her husband from the start out of her fear that he wouldn't marry her/would leave her. I was incredibly frustrated by her and her half-hearted justification to her best friend over how she could essentially steal her husband.
Lars was an incredibly weak character, who turned out to be quite the manipulator in the end. While he seemed very sweet and innocent at the beginning of the affair, he basically turns into a con-artist when he comes crawling back to Susanna after his relationship with Ann ends.
Susanna was a character that I really wanted to like but in the end I was so disappointed with her I almost would have enjoyed the movie if she had been able to stay strong and tell her ex-husband to shove it when he tried to get back with her, but instead of moving on and realizing she deserved much better than Lars, she held onto his hand and looked into his eyes signaling that she too would like things to go back to the way that they had been before.
The main thing that actually kept me interested in the film was the impressive use and color in both the wardrobe and set choices. I loved the way in which the director and set designer were so specific in the colors that they choose for absolutely everything in the film, it was a great way to enhance the film and keep the audience engaged. Even without hearing the words spoken by the characters the evolution of their clothing and the furniture around them told a very clear story. For example at the beginning of the film both Ann & Lars are wearing a similar periwinkle blue when they bond over their fear of spousal infidelity and they begin an affair. After the affair is begun the audience only sees Ann in bright, bold colors while Susanna is always seen in black. The stark contrast between the two women's clothing is a very telling sign of the state of their relationships. Overall the use of color in the film is the most engaging aspect.
While this movie, in the end, has an extremely mundane plot, it is not necessarily a bad movie; it's just not a very good movie. The use of color as a story telling element and the compelling sets that are designed around tables and conversation make for a very interesting visual experience and overall makes this movie one worth viewing simply to see how simple choices like clothing & furniture color can make such a huge impact on a film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although the sets, cinematography, and action in Heaven's Heart are
subtle, the complex characters and story create an intriguing drama
about finding and losing love and marriage. Ultimately, this subtlety
is provocative and telling of the true nature of each character. The
film centers around the marital dynamics of two middle aged upper class
couples, Lars and Susanna and their close friends Ulf and Ann. Both
have been married for many years. As the story unfolds, we learn of
their infidelity and the relationships that develop outside of their
The temporal setup in the narrative is carefully crafted to capture the viewer's attention. The film begins in a disjunct scene in a lawyer's office where we learn that Susana and Lars are to be divorced. They do not look at each other, but rather stare somberly off into the distance. Melancholy piano music emphasizes the dark nature of the events to come. However, we move not forward in time but backwards, and the story that follows is one that explains the events to come. The narrative is intriguing in this way, for from the initial scene one could assume a fairly run-of-the-mill divorce. However, we learn through the flashback of the complex relationships that have developed between the two couples, turning each marriage on its head. The dark tone of the opening scene is carried into the past with a continuation of the somber music. Despite the fact that Susanna and Lars seem happy, because the viewer knows what will ultimately occur in their marriage, we are eager to see how their marriage spirals into disarray.
After the somber tone of the film is set in the first scene in the lawyer's office, as the flashback begins the dialogue in the first dinner party scene is critical in how we learn about the characters. Dialogue is carefully crafted so that we learn about the characters sets us up for rest of story. In the initial scenes, we witness private conversations between the men and women that set. We learn that Anna is disgusted by physical intimacy, but Susanna appreciates it and seems to be in a healthy relationship. Through the men's discussion, we learn that Ulf has considered having an affair, but that Lars is incredibly against the idea in his own marriage despite his apparent unhappiness. These conversations are meant to prime the viewer's expectations of each character before the main plot of the narrative moves forward, and is done so expertly so that we may understand just enough about each character to be surprised by the event that follow.
As the plot develops, cinematography plays a critical role in conveying our understanding of the events in the narrative and the characters in the story. Throughout the film, characters are framed by dark hallways and spaces, such as when Lars first breaks down to tears in front of Anna. This further perpetuates the somber tone of the film. Especially important are the extreme close ups of character's faces that occur whenever a serious, intense conversation is taking place. In the scene at the first dinner party when we learn that Susanna and Ulf are not opposed to infidelity in marriage when it is in the name of true love, the effect of the emotional repercussions on each character is felt profoundly by the viewer because of the tight framing of their faces. The close ups show the intensity and weight of this singular conversation in each of characters lives. They signify the fundamental differences between the characters, and the consequences that this conversation will have on each of their lives. The tight framing is only broken when the Susanna leaves the room and the conversation is at an end, but returns in various other points in the narrative when discussions are involved and important.
Although the setup of the film is relatively simple, with only two main locations and four actors, the complex cinematography and dialogue create an extremely compelling story. In fact, the lack of superfluous details serves to further highlight the story. This is reminiscent of other well-known Nordic styles, such as the profound realism and emotion in the films of Ingmar Bergman and even the intense starkness of the raw stories, characters, and emotions in Danish Dogme 95 films. In particular, many elements of Heaven's Heart parallel Vinterberg's The Celebration in that the main events of both stories occur in confined, familial gatherings that quickly go awry. Both films emphasize the inescapable nature of these conflicts through their respective cinematographic styles. Although some elements of this previous trend are carried over into Staho's work, the film overall does not read like these films, rather, it more has the feel of a theatrical production.
Overall, the subtle realism of the film serves to profoundly convey the heart wrenching dynamics of two disastrous marriages. It is no surprise that both actresses were nominated/selected for the Swedish film awards, the Guldbagge. With its stark, raw emotions and moving storyline, Heaven's Heart serves as a compelling look into the darker side of love and marriage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For many films, huge special effects, dramatic plot lines, particularly
good-looking people and scenic filming locations are used as a crutch
for the film lean on, a way for the film to hide a meaningless and
shallow plot. When viewers are able to see through the superficiality
that a film like this depends on, the viewer is left wanting more. It
is not very often that a film comes along that mimics the skilled
techniques of a quality theatrical production, moving audiences with no
special effects, a small cast of average looking actors or actresses,
and ordinary sets. Himlens Hjarta (Heaven's Heart, 2008. Sweden) is one
of the few films that is able to do so much with so little. This
heartbreakingly stirring film is about two couples, their opinions on
adultery, and the way they cope with adultery once they are faced with
it. The fabric of this film is made up of four characters, two ordinary
home settings, and not a stitch of special effects. This film, though
not an example of the upbeat entertainment most look for in films,
earns merit based on its simplicity.
Heaven's heart tells the story of two couples. Ulf and Ann, the first married couple, are best friends with Susanna and Lars, the other married couple. The film follows the couples at dinner parties and other interactions at their two homes, all centering on the topic of adultery. Through a conversation at their first dinner party in the film, the viewers are enlightened to their individual opinions on the matter. Lars and Ann are adamantly opposed to adultery in any form while Ulf and Susanna seem to think there are some exceptions. Ironically, it is Lars and Ann who begin an affair, putting to the test all that their formerly understanding spouses had said on the matter previously. Ulf seems more understanding than Susanna, ultimately, and the movie ends on a bittersweet note where one couple finds a way to move past and the other ends broken.
This is not a film I would normally enjoy watching. This film is not an escape but rather a reminder of the loss of trust, a common experience in society. This theme is woven throughout the film, along with the theme of deception, as the audience is privy to the cheating being hidden from friends and spouses. The film is also not visually stimulating. The costumes are everyday clothing, the sets look like average Scandinavian homes, and the cast is made up of four actors. The realistic aspect of the film that those simple choices provide gives the viewer the sense that they are at a theater rather than watching a film.
One aspect of this film that stood out to me, that a theatrical production would be unable to produce, is the different shots the director chose to use to magnify the scenes. The shots in this film are still and simple. There is not a single time that the camera pans, there are only a few times when it slowly zooms in, and only a few shots are shown with more than one person. The shots of characters alone, closely showing the emotions displayed on their expressive faces, magnifies the isolation each character feels as they are alienated from their friends and their spouse, navigating through unfamiliar relationship issues.
Though the four characters are ordinary in many ways, their acting is anything but. Mikael Persbrandt (Lars), Lena Endre (Susanna), Jakob Eklund (Ulf), and Maria Lundqvist (Ann) make up this stellar cast. The cast is able to portray the difficult circumstances and their individual heartbreak in a way that the audience leaves feeling like they just lost their friends and spouse. Quick wit and sharp jabs, especially from Susanna towards her husband Lars, show clearly the anger that is felt because of his betrayal, betrayal that she had been justifying within someone else's life earlier in the film. And while this anger accumulates and their relationship ends in a divorce attorney's office, Ann and Ulf rekindle what they had lost, proving the old phrase "you don't know what you've got until it is gone."
The bittersweet aspect of this film's ending comes from the fact that while Lars thought he had found what he was looking for in Ann, he wrecked his relationship with his wife, his best friend, and ended up helping Ann and Ulf rekindle their romance. The film leaves audiences in a moral dilemma. While many can see that the film shows the moral high ground as Lars, the cheating husband, ends up estranged from his wife and daughter, the flip side is that Ann, the cheating wife, ends up with the life she has always dreamed of thus posing the question to the audience that the couples began the film trying to figure out. Is there any justification for adultery?
Technically speaking, this film excels in many ways that traditional films do not. And while I greatly appreciate this aspect of the film, I did not necessarily enjoy the film. I usually look for a film to show me something different, something unexpected, not ordinary and tragic aspects of life. The realism is what distinguishes this film from others but also the reason why I didn't enjoy it. Appreciate it? Yes. Enjoy? Not so much.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Heaven's Heart (Himlens hjärta) is the story of two married couples
who, over the course of a dinner party, discuss the meaning and
morality of adultery, the institution of marriage, and the difference
between love and sex. The seemingly harmless discussion generates
emotional crises that cause each character to critically examine the
state of their marriage. The discoveries made about themselves and
their partners put their convictions to the test. Director, Simon
Staho, artfully captures the intricacies of intimate relationships, the
fragility of the human heart, and the agony of betrayal.
The first shot is a high-angle close-up of Lars, part of one of the two couples; the camera gradually shifts from soft to deep focus, as Lars opens his eyes, as if waking. Paralleling this shot is the next his wife, Susanna, lifting her eyes from the ground to the lens. The characters seem solemn and aware, the reason becoming clear when we see the two, dressed in black, in a dimly lit courtroom, a declaration is made by an unseen official. There is a flashback to nine months prior, and we see the two, in stark contrast to the previous shot, in a warmer environment their closet, brightly lit, both in white. She helps him dress as they prepare to greet their friends for dinner, and she leans into him to brush her nose against his as he states, "To a good evening." The evening, however, takes a decidedly not good turn. We quickly learn that Ann and Ulf, the friends that arrive, are unhappy with their sex life a fact they don't hide from their friends; as the two women discuss Anna's non-existent libido (at one point, she asks her friend, "Doesn't all that intimacy make you sick?"), Lars and Ulf discuss the same topic with a twist Ulf wonders if Lars has ever cheated and admits to having been tempted himself. He then states that he might have left Ann at the beginning of their marriage, had she told him she was infertile. Dinner conversation follows much the same pattern, when it is revealed that Lars' work colleague had left his wife for a nurse at their facility. Susanna defends him, proposing that perhaps he had found his true love, and Ulf agrees. Ann and Lars, as if on the same team, are seated at the same side of the table, and both become visibly distressed at this suggestion. Passion is not love, Lars argues, and marriage is a partnership that should be honored. Marriage, Susanna counters, is a "wall against solitude" and exclaims, "Why do people trash adulterers? At least they do something." The conversation between Lars and Susanna after dinner shows less candor and more vulnerability; she asks him if he ever feels as though something is missing from his life; he asks her the same question, and she displays a much more vulnerable and honest character, clearly sad and perplexed you can't help but sympathize with them both.
The well-crafted dialogue between Susanna and Lars makes it evident that Susanna is experiencing something of a midlife crisis. She ponders the wisdom in having had a child and fixates on her exploits with past lovers; the viewer can't help but wonder if she's tempted to stray or has, in fact done so. However, she appears hesitant to share these thoughts and guilty for feeling them. One moment she's too glib and thoughtless and the next she seems repentant. The viewer is pushed to identify with Lars, but I can't help feeling some attachment, however tenuous, to Susanna; she's very changeable, very human, and, I think, fearful of losing her husband, which is why she often treats him with such disregard; it is her attempt to prevent herself from feeling too much pain, should he stray. In the same vein, Ulf considers the possibility of infidelity divulging his secret urges with Lars; this leads me to believe he has no real intention of cheating, because if he did, he wouldn't share that information with anyone. He desperately wants children and a deeper connection with the woman he married; Ann seems to lack tenderness or warmth. While Susanna and Ulf openly evaluate their somewhat unsatisfactory relationships, the subdued and polite Lars and Ann, defenders of marriage and stability, become increasingly fearful their partners will cheat.
When betrayals are brought to light and each character reveals their true thoughts and feelings, a poignant and painful depiction of human fragility is rendered. The film begs the question, What is love? What is marriage? What is security? The acting in Heaven's Heart is superb; the emotion is authentic and sometimes visceral. Aesthetically bare and largely without background sound, the film leaves the actors responsible for filling the empty spaces with the forcefulness of dialogue and expression. It's a depressing film, in typical Nordic fashion, but I would recommend watching, if you're looking for a thought-provoking drama.
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