Map of The Human Heart – Vincent Ward

Map of Human Heart Poster

We all harvest shapes. The artist’s job is to beget into the world his shape. It is my belief that the shapes we harvest are primarily spherical. After all, we look at the world as a sphere, and many of our notions of meaning are cyclical.

Spheres are sublime shapes. They permit symmetries and assymetries, which is a kind of magical overlapping of surfaces. I believe that we think and feel spherically, but with a varying number of sides to our spheres. We reflect back on events and carry these reflections to reflect them upon other events, and so on, hopscotch-like. Since the thing is spherical, at times we retouch some surfaces, but with new tools, so we can mine new meaning. I think this kind of spherical thought comes from the comfort we find in the idea that things can literally enwrap themselves around us, as if we are swept-into them.

So when an artist throws a ball into the world, he means business. And it’s personal.

You have to watch this, and then go visit the layered ‘Lovers From The Arctic Circle’. That one is intelligent and warm-blooded. This? It’s its eskimo cousin, as warm-blooded, but more primitive and elementary.

The problem here is manifold. But my main complaint is that it is primarily a binary world. And if you are going to throw a ball, you need some dimensional awareness. You need to carve out a spherical space to prepare the resonance. Otherwise it falls flat. No enwrapping.

If you don’t know, it is a love story, with the central part set against a war. But they have it all wrong. There are only two ways you can do this. The cheap one, which they do here, is get involved with the lovers only. The audience is then expected to fill in the dramatic space with what they know of the drama of battle. But no, we hardly do that anymore. We’ve watched too many war movies, and understand its own cinematic space. So we have to get involved in that warring space (something like ‘Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles’), live in it, and have the two merge, which is the othe way, the good one. It is never a question of simple nesting.

This framing can work because the motions of war amplify those of love, or vice-versa. But we need to be exposed to both motions, cinematically, or to at least the most powerful. Here, it is World War II, but it might as well be a video game.

This is so frustrating, because in the most unexpected corners of this film, beneath a lot of dreary dialog and situations, and even clumsy direction, you can find some precious gems.

Take the central scene: our lovers meet again during wartime in London. He is an aerial photographer, and she is a reader of these photographs. They have to communicate through a picture which he takes under irregularity, and which he knows will be delivered to her. This picture points to a music hall, which is understood will be the location of their next meeting. This hall is the Royal Albert Hall and they are set to meet inside the iron-wrought dome (yes, a dome) which roofs it. Now, almost everything about the scene is sublime. We have the reuniting of love taking place in a geometrical space, the invitation to this reunion through the decoding of a picture, and the music hall hosting a concert as they meet. The blood of love, the urges of longing, all run flush through that situation. It is perfect. As they meet on the dome, and they approach each other, the girl does something that infuses the whole thing with a light eroticism, something that would never happen in real life, but witnessing it shifts the way you may dream about longing. She takes of her shoes, and then one of her stockings. She walks towards him, at the center of the dome, and she drops her stocking below, inside the concert hall. We see it drop in slow-motion on top of an orchestra drum. It makes a light hushed sound. The orchestra stops playing. And we cut back to our lovers, smiling and laughing lightly.

But why does this wonderful sequence have to be nested between very thin, even embrassing, dialog? Why where the pulls of love are at their strongest do we have an interference of another matter, some drama about what it means to be of two descendencies, to have two origins (an interesting duality, but never exploited). And why is all this acted out by two regular actors? This is something special, unique, and for it you need actors that are capable of infering the entire sublimity of the situation. Not two nitwits with no clue about what they find themselves in. So much of what counts in terms of actor presence is discounted here, even down to their voices: unnatural, clumsy, no modulation. The right urges are infered in the logic of what is happening, but there is no life there to channel the power and make the whole thing human, make it breathe.

I guess we had no benchmark before Medem, for this kind of thing, a love story annotated with a passionate excess and that same excess found in the nature of the fillmmaking. Medem weaves it in a kind of fluid and suspended structure that has symmetries. Ward doesn’t. Medem is consistent, with a grounded although fluid center. Ward is uneven. Take for example the scene where our boy finds out his long-lost love has married his mentor. It’s a double-treachery, powerful, dramatic. But it is exposed with no pull. Just a simple medium-shot of our cheated lover storming out.

But the thing has incredible redeeming value. You can tell Ward has a very cinematic mind. It all lies within the eye in which romantic forces battle it out.

  • The central motif here is cartography. Or at least, we are supposed to understand that it is. Our hero is from a region (close to the north pole) which has yet to be mapped, and the movie we see is the story he tells the cartographer. Our hero is involved with mapping through photography, and so is his rival, who ‘maps out’ his fate, and also the one of his woman. This is competently worked in the story. And it is probably what you will impregnate your mind. An eye that maps.
  • The actors who play the leads as kids have a very cinematic presence. The first segment has many scenes which were semi-improvised, and you can see it. There is a wonderful energy that is essentially kid-like, and to capture that and weave it around a discovery of love, makes for something pure.
  • It has a cinematic eye. Part of the thing is set close to the North Pole (upper Quebec I imagine), so we get pretty horizon shots. He also films the real inhabitants of the place albeit shyly so, but it worked for this viewer, the transporting to a distant world. Some events overlap and it is well-planted through the cinematography. But uneven, so uneven.
  • Two men competing for the same woman, and doing so by delivering images, each outdoing the other. The Inuit boy is abstract and inventive. His mentor and rival (white), is factual, concrete.
  • A wonderful ending which is worth the whole film. Look at it and curse the director for not conceiving the entire movie in a similar shape.

I guess you can pick enough pieces here to map out your own life-altering story. And you can go see Medem’s to enhance its telling.

So see it. Like everything else I write about, it is worth watching, unless I state otherwise.

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Categories: Notes

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