Black Heaven Review
The PR sheet that came with Black Heaven’s review disc refers to the film as “Tron meets Blue Velvet”. The Tron element comes from its virtual reality angle - an online game called the Black Hole in which its participants act moodily and dress sluttily within a neon-lit night time setting. The Blue Velvet side of things is accounted for courtesy of its youthful central couple and their amateur sleuthing, a Gallic Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern who find their innocence tested in the face of some seedy characters and even seedier situations. Encountering a mislaid mobile phone whilst holidaying in the south of France, the pair become embroiled in a world of drugs, violence, the Black Hole and Louise Bourgoin of Adèle Blanc-Sec fame - for she is the phone’s owner - showing off her arse at every given possibility.
Of course the discovery in Blue Velvet centred around a severed ear in quiet suburbia. It was immediately clear that a crime had been committed and as such MacLachlan’s interest in discovering its owner was entirely justified. By way of contrast, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet (Black Heaven’s lead) is merely intrigued by a couple of text messages from an unknown man nicknamed Dragon. And so whilst this intrigue may lead to various examples of dubious activity, it isn’t the easiest ask for the audience to share in his fascination. It’s a flaw that permeates all of Black Heaven insofar as it continually fails to communicate Leprince-Ringuet’s interest to the viewer. Bourgoin remains a cipher (albeit one with a propensity for taking her clothes off in front of him), the men she associates with seem to be various shades of criminal, and the whole Black Hole world nothing more than a vacuous combination of virtual sex and virtual violence.
All of which is great shame considering that the two men behind the screenplay are that same that collaborated on the superior psychological thrillers Harry, He’s Here to Help and Lemming. With those two films Dominik Moll (writer here, writer-director there) and Gilles Marchand (writer-director here, writer there) created a pair of works that firmly grounded themselves in reality and allowed the ensuing mind games played on their chief protagonists to do the work. (You could also add another of their collaborations -Who Killed Bambi? directed, like Black Heaven, by Marchand - although this one felt slightly diluted when compared to the Moll-helmed efforts.) Indeed, it was the mundane reality of the films which allowed the ensuing thriller elements to prove all the more forceful. Without any such grounding Black Heaven merely floats by the viewer in an entirely empty fashion. It may look pretty (courtesy Céline Bozon’s widescreen photography) and sound pretty (thanks to a synth-heavy score) but behind these surfaces there’s nothing there.
Arrow have recently released Black Heaven onto DVD in a fairly perfunctory fashion. No extras, a mere stereo rendering of the soundtrack and burnt-in English subtitles (which are on the rather large side) may very well put off some potential buyers, but at least the presentation is otherwise fine: a dual-layered disc housing just the 101-minute feature; no technical side effects from the transfer process; and a flawless print in use. Indeed, much like the film itself, it looks good but anyone seeking a bit of depth is going to be sorely disappointed.