A Hole In My Heart Review
Lukas Moodysson’s first two films, Fucking Amal and Together were among the most charming and touchingly funny of the past ten years. There was plenty of substance in both these confections but no sign of a director who had the urge to make profound statements about society. As a result, Lilya 4-Ever came as something of a shock but it’s profound anger and brilliant central performance from Oksana Akinshina made it a compelling and powerful experience that is very hard to forget. Nothing, however, prepared me for A Hole In My Heart. I may have seen a more obtusely hysterical or less likeable film during the course of several decades of viewing but it’s hard to recall one right now. On one level, this could be regarded as simply a sign that the purpose of the film has been achieved. Moodysson intends to disgust us, to make a film that will be remembered for its sheer extremity and in this respect he succeeds completely. However much you dislike this chamber piece about two porn performers, a director and his unbalanced son, you’re not likely to forget it. Beginning with two men sitting side by side, looking as flaccid as their genitalia, continuing with close-up shots of labial surgery and finishing with a man vomiting into a woman’s mouth to the accompaniment of the soaring strains of Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, it’s rather like a grotesque freak show which, with its philosophical asides, looks like it’s the product of a collaboration between Ken Russell, John Staglioni and the National Viewers and Listeners Association.
The film isn’t overburdened with plot. Rickard (Thorsten Flinck) is directing a porn video in the apartment that he shares with his disturbed and deformed teenage son Erik (Bjorn Almroth). The performers are reality-TV reject Tess (Sanna Brading) and Geko (Goran Marjanovic). Neither is exactly comfortable with themselves; Tess has undergone surgery on her vagina to make it more aesthetically pleasing while Geko is obsessed with the size of his penis. Although the shoot begins in the usual fashion, things begin to go off the rails and the results become increasingly disgusting and scatological.
In general, A Hole In My Heart has been ridiculed off the screen, often by critics who have hailed Lukas Moodysson as one of the great men of contemporary cinema. In a sense, the bad reviews are not entirely unjustified. A Hole In My Heart has a feeling of strain which suggests that Moodysson isn’t entirely comfortable with his material and is resorting to shock tactics as the only way he can get it across to the audience. The situation in itself is not necessarily problematic. There’s a feeling of claustrophobia and dread which seems a direct nod towards the work of Harold Pinter – a writer whose use of ‘the room’ as a place of incipient violence and terror has been vastly influential. The problem lies in what the filmmaker does with it. In Pinter’s best ‘room plays’, such as “One For The Road” or “Old Times”, every line has been carefully weighted to advance both atmosphere and situation and the compelling horror lies in our recognition of how the circumstance mirrors our everyday world in one way or another. The characters in A Hole In My Heart speak a good deal but their talk is rarely either memorable or significant. What transpires seems to have little connection to the dialogue and Geko’s abrupt changes of character are sprung on us out of nowhere. When Tess leaves the apartment, following a simulated rape attack by the two men – stopped, in rather unlikely fashion, by a suddenly heroic teenage son - she goes to the supermarket and then goes back with several bags full of food. None of this makes any logical sense in character terms unless we’re meant to see Tess as a victim of a patriarchal conspiracy to render her a victim. But was it necessary to make her so bloody dim? Of course, Moodysson may be saying that pornography is so spiritually destructive that it causes the people within it to behave irrationally and illogically. If so, that’s a very moralistic and unsophisticated point of view and one which is unworthy of the man who, inTogether, showed us how unconventional morality can become spiritually healing. I’m not remotely suggesting that porn should be seen as a redemptive social force but nor do I want to see a talented filmmaker producing platitudes worthy of the late Mrs Whitehouse. The anger at society which put Lilya 4-Ever in danger of being an over-extended moralistic tract is placed up-front here but there’s little of the dramatic power of the earlier film.
Yet there’s something about A Hole In My Heart which nagged at me, both while I was watching and later when I thought about it. It’s not anything thematic, needless to say, and while Moodysson may think he’s making a profound point about the degrading nature of reality TV and pornography, he isn’t saying anything except how dreadful it is. Nor is it anything to do with the horribly self-conscious moments when the characters show us pictures of themselves as children to demonstrate to us how far they’ve been corrupted by a cruel world. It may be something to do with the performances, which are heroically courageous in the circumstances, particularly from Sanna Brading who is asked to do things that would even phase some professional porn stars – no wonder Christina Aguilera looked askance when asked to play the role. Mostly, however, it’s the pain and horrible sadness which underlies the film. Emotions as basic as isolation, hope and desperation have the power to affect you even in a film which is an obvious artistic failure. The sense of agonising despair which oozes off the screen is hard to get out of your mind even while you’re cringing at the clumping dialogue and the clumsy hand-held camera work. I felt emotionally roughed-up by watching A Hole In My Heart even while I was finding it intellectually bankrupt and ludicrously hysterical in execution. Ultimately, though, this made me resent it even more. It’s not hard to get to an audience by featuring a character with a deformed hand who simply wants his father to love him or by subjecting a pretty young woman to increasingly sadistic experiences. That doesn’t necessarily mean that an accomplished filmmaker should stoop to the basest emotional tactics in order to get across his piddling little ideas.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that there is a vital place within art for extremity and the power of extremity to shock and disturb. But the finger-wagging tone of Moodysson’s film is a chore to sit through. There’s nothing original or unpredictable going on here and the result is a simplistic catalogue of depredations which don’t add up to anything. By the last reel, we’re so unsurprised by what happens, the humanistic message that Moodysson intends has ceased to have any meaning.
It’s fair to say that watching A Hole In My Heart was a depressing experience for this fan of Moodysson’s filmmaking. But Metrodome’s DVD presents the film very well indeed. It’s available both on its own and as part of a four film box set.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. Given the limitations of the material and the deliberately grainy, even shabby look of the film, it’s a good transfer. The disjointed nature of the editing and variety of shooting styles – including the rather odd blurring out of brand names which suggests an underground film from a naïve student making a statement about capitalist exploitation - makes it a very odd, often irritating visual experience. But given that this is intentional, the transfer is certainly not at fault.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very lively indeed, assaulting the viewers senses with very loud music and sudden blasts of white noise. The Swedish dialogue is accompanied by optional English subtitles – although some of it is so appallingly sub-Bergman that printing it on the screen is a little counter-productive.
There are a number of extras. Along with a confusingly edited theatrical trailer, we get a twenty minute featurette called “A Hole In My Second Heart. This is ostensibly a making-of but is actually a discursive examination of the purpose of the film from the points of view of the actors and the unseen director. It’s interesting but too short to get to the nitty-gritty points which you’ll wish could be discussed – like why an intelligent man like Moodysson is making something which is so simplistic and, the word seems not misplaced, naïve. We also get a twenty minute ‘Masterclass’ with the director, filmed at the Other Cinema in 2004 and covering his career with only relatively brief mentions of the present film. Finally, there is an eight page ‘Director’s Statement’ in which Moodysson writes about the inspiration of the film and responds to some criticisms. I’m not sure what to make of this apart from to observe that Max Hardcore probably isn’t on his Christmas Card list.
The film is divided into 12 chapter stops.
A Hole In My Heart is a terribly strange film and not a particularly good one. It’s certainly worth seeing if only to demonstrate how a good filmmaker can come unstuck, I won’t easily forget some of the imagery though and it goes without saying that this is not a film for anyone who is easily shocked. Metrodome’s DVD is generally a good presentation of the film and given it’s limited cinema release, represents a good way to catch up with it.