Heaven's Heart

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San Sebastian Film Festival, Zabaltegi Pearls

Two middle-class Swedish couples, happily married for well nigh 20 years, open a rift in their supposedly solid conjugal relations in "Heaven's Heart," a talky four-actor drama permeated by echoes of stage plays and Ingmar Bergman. This festival film par excellence is marred only by its accomodating ending. It should have special appeal for older viewers who enjoy theater.

On his fifth feature, young Swedish director Simon Staho ("Bang Bang Orangutang") confidently wrings compelling drama from a top-notch cast filmed in unforgiving close-ups. The film opens on the icy divorce hearing of Lars (Staho regular Mikael Persbrandt) and Susanna (Lena Endre), then flashes back nine months to explain what happened. It all began one evening when the couple invited their best friends Ulf (Jakob Eklund) and Ann (Maria Lundqvist) over for dinner and the talk turned to adultery.

Ulf and Lars confess to each other that they have always been faithful to their wives, though Ulf has entertained some unrealized fantasies. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Ann admits to Susanna that she no longer sleeps with Ulf. Over dinner, Susanna and Ulf defend a mutual acquaintance who has left his wife for a younger woman, and a thrill of fear sweeps over Ann and Lars. Is marriage just "a wall against solitude"? Is passion or security the most important thing in life?

Staho and Peter Asmussen's script is a non-stop stream of dialogue that would make a fine stage play. Instead of trying to knock down the theater walls, however, Staho boldly chooses to limit the film even more in terms of imagery, shooting it almost entirely in a living room, a kitchen and a bedroom.

Great demands are put on the star cast, forced to act in full-screen close-ups with no visible make-up. All four are excellent performers who flesh out their roles and elicit the viewer's sympathy. Persbrandt's Lars explores his fears first-hand; Endre's Susanna humiliates herself to hold on to what she has. The fascinating thing is that all four seem sensitive, intelligent and well-meaning, but are still unable to avoid disaster.

Production company: Trollhattan Film.
Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Lena Endre, Jakob Eklund, Maria Lundqvist.
Director: Simon Staho.
Screenwriters: Peter Asmussen, Simon Staho.
Executive producers: Malte Forssell, Mimmi Spang, Rebecka Lafrenz, Peter Aalbaek Jensen.
Producer: Jonas Frederiksen.
Co-producers: Gunnar Carlsson, peter Possne, Tomas Eskilsson.
Director of photography: Anders Bohman.
Music: Stefan Nilsson.
Costumes: Katja Watkins.
Editor: Janus Billeskov Jansen.
Sales Agent: Trust Film Sales, Denmark.
93 minutes.

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