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DVD Review: The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

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Being a horror buff, I’m familiar with the career of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento. Being a film buff, I’m also familiar with career of his daughter Asia Argento. You may remember her as playing the hot Euro chick opposite Vin Diesel in XXX. Her very first appearance in one of her father’s films was a rape scene and this was only the beginning of her strange and somewhat disturbing film career. Her second film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, is no exception. In a word… disturbing.

The film begins with a young boy, Jeremiah, being taken away from his foster parents now that his biological mother, Sarah, has finally come to reclaim him. We quickly learn that Sarah is a troubled girl with a penchant for drugs and abusive relationships. Jeremiah has been dragged away from a loving foster family to follow his junky mother around the country looking for the next boyfriend or the next score. Jeremiah must learn to cope with the fact that his life will be hard and that he will never again see the quiet suburban family life he was raised in.

The film succeeds quite nicely at its intended purpose. Life can be very hard and the self-destructive behavior of some can make it even harder. Every form of child abuse is depicted or implied – whether it’s physical, verbal, sexual, or simply neglect. While the movie covers these very dark themes, it never pushes them so far as to make the film unwatchable. Humanity’s darker side is shown but not focused on, since the main focus of the movie is watching how Jeremiah learns to cope with a life that none would choose. One of the most interesting parts of the movie was catching little insights regarding how the abusers justified their behavior. Sarah’s verbal abuse stems from her belief that Jeremiah ruined her life, the physical abuser just wants to raise Jeremiah “right” just like his father raised him, etc.

My biggest issue with the film though, is whether all of this is really entertainment. Does this story really need to be told? The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things provides an interesting look into parenting’s seedy underbelly, but the film lacks any attempt at a moral statement of some kind. Instead of leaving me with a “child abuse is horrible” feeling, I’m simply left with a “that kid has amazing coping skills” feeling. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that the movie never claimed to teach any sort of moral lesson, only to tell a very dark story. In that, it succeeded.

I believe the strongest quality of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things can be found in the cast. Jimmy Bennett was fantastic and extremely believable as Jeremiah. Asia Argento never fails to impress with her acting talents. Her ability to play both the Madonna and the whore with equal finesse continues to astound me. The film also has great supporting performances by character actors like Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Marilyn Manson, and Matt Shulze. The cast really held this film together. Their realistic performances reminded me that they weren’t playing fictional characters so much as real life archetypes. This story could be happening right next door, right now.

Although sometimes disturbing, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things remains interesting. Although interesting, the movie never managed to become truly entertaining for me. I recommend the film to anyone wanting a true to life depiction of child abuse and bad parenting and fans of Asia Argento, gritty cinema, good character acting, or the darker side of independent film. I don’t recommend this movie to abuse victims or anyone hoping for a shiny, happy ending.

Final Grade: C-

The Upside: A gritty, real, disturbing, unsettling, and interesting look at skewed morals backed by above par character acting.

The Downside: A disturbing and unsettling look at child abuse that spirals farther and farther down into despair.

On the Side: The movie is based on a book by Laura Albert. She used the pen name J. (Jeremiah) T. Leroy to write a fake autobiography about the abuse that he (J.T.) suffered as a child.

Check out the trailer for this film, or  all the film stats for The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

By Jarvis Mishler, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    First: The film succeeds quite nicely at its intended purpose.

    Then: I think the important thing to keep in mind is that the movie never claimed to teach any sort of moral lesson, only to tell a very dark story. In that, it succeeded.

    Then: Although sometimes disturbing, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things remains interesting.

    Finally: Final Grade: C-

    What the hell. I think both your grading system and your critical outlook need some serious realignment, man. So it’s not ‘entertaining,’ but then neither was it meant as entertainment. If you don’t like it and didn’t enjoy watching it, don’t give it a bloody positive review.

  • Eli Cash

    Well with C being the average then consequently isn’t C- below average, thus being a negative review with some upsides?

  • http://www.modernguy.net Neil Miller

    Great call-out Eli!

    I think that is what Jarvis was going for…

  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    But that’s exactly my damn point. This isn’t a ‘negative with upsides’ review. Nothing in this review leads me to believe that Mr. Mishler even considers it an average film. What I get out of this review is, “it’s tough to watch, it’s well-acted, it’s disturbing, it succeeds at what it sets out to do…. but it gets a negative grade anyway, because it’s not entertaining.” Sorry, I’m callin’ shenanigans.

  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/authors/jarvis/ Jarvis Mishler

    That’s funny, I assumed film was SUPPOSED to be entertaining. Sometimes it’s poignant, sometimes educational, sometimes eye opening, and sometimes scary, but all the while a movie has to keep our interest and attention or we’ll simply stop watching.

    Heart Is Deceitful kept my interest, but only just. Hence the “C”. Much of the movie was disturbing in a way that only child abuse can be. Just when I would get the urge to stop watching, I would catch myself being enthralled by Argento’s or Bennett’s performance.

    I did open my review by stating that I am a Horror Fan. I’m no stranger to dark and disturbing cinema. I’m very fond of films such as Requiem For A Dream, Sin City, The Acid House, and Freeway to name a few. I enjoy dark endings and anti-climaxes as much as the next guy, but that wasn’t what Heart Is Deceitful was about.

    Heart Is Deceitful is merely a piece of an abused child’s life. The story has no beginning and no end, just middle. Nothing changes, no one learns a lesson, nothing is different than when it started. Yet the movie makes no attempt to make a point out of this! The same ‘story’ could have been told by filming 2 straight hours of a kid being beaten with a belt, but THAT doesn’t mean it’s a movie!

    Although the story (and the execution there of) would have received an “F”, Heart Is Deceitful did manage to redeem itself somewhat with its solid cast. Good performances by actors that I would expect nothing less of managed to make a bad script a somewhat better movie.

    I’ll stick with my original Rating. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things gets a C-.

    Now, nothing’s stopping you from writing your OWN review. I’d love to hear it!

    -Jarvis

  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    That’s it! Right there!

    Heart Is Deceitful is merely a piece of an abused child’s life. The story has no beginning and no end, just middle. Nothing changes, no one learns a lesson, nothing is different than when it started. Yet the movie makes no attempt to make a point out of this! The same ‘story’ could have been told by filming 2 straight hours of a kid being beaten with a belt, but THAT doesn’t mean it’s a movie!

    All great points… none of which, for whatever reason, made it into your review, dude! You instead spent too much time pointing out what worked. Occasionally (i.e. paragraph 4), you creep towards mentioning exactly what you’ve just said in the above comment… but then you back away and label the film ‘successful’ again. I understand the need to be tactful, but there comes a point where the teeth come out of your review. If I see a film that’s successful at anything, it’s gonna get above a C- (this, though, gets into grading-scale semantics — you say average, I say mediocre, and below mediocre is nothing at all to be proud of).

    That’s funny, I assumed film was SUPPOSED to be entertaining. Sometimes it’s poignant, sometimes educational, sometimes eye opening, and sometimes scary, but all the while a movie has to keep our interest and attention or we’ll simply stop watching.

    And I guess this depends on what you mean by ‘entertainment.’ You cite Requiem for a Dream, which is a great film. But is it entertaining? Compelling, yes. Powerful, yes. Unforgettable, yes. Entertaining? Uh… not so much. I don’t know about you, but I felt wrung out, not entertained.

    Maybe it’s just where I’m coming from here — as a collector of extreme cinema, I’ve long gotten past the idea that a film has to ‘entertain’ to be a successful work of art. Pasolini’s Salo, Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Villaronga’s In a Glass Cage and even Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave all made me feel vaguely ill. That, though, doesn’t mean they’re not fine and worthy films, as in each case I’m pretty sure that’s the intent. That’s also what I expect to get with The Heart is Deceitful…. Maybe when I see it I’ll write up a review here. Or, maybe it’ll just get relegated to my weblog. Depends on how wordy I get (and how many other damn things I have to write). We shall see.

  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    And a late-breaking thought: How does ‘entertainment’ apply to avant-garde film? Stan Brakhage, for example, didn’t make films that were satisfying in any traditional sense — their pleasures were entirely formal.

    What I’m trying to bring out here, in essence, is an understanding and/or questioning of something: the usefulness of applying a template of traditional entertainment value to works whose aspirations lie elsewhere.

  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/authors/jarvis/ Jarvis Mishler

    I see your point Steve, I do. I seem to remember creating some confusion in the past based on the cohesion between the review and the letter grade. Admittedly, a portion of that stems from the particular grading system we use over at Film School Rejects.

    I’ve harrassed our over-worked editor a few times about getting a copy of the grading scale up for our readers to see.

    A = Must be seen in the theater right now, maybe even twice.
    B = Worth the theater ticket price, definitely catch it on DVD.
    C = Catch it on DVD if you’ve got nothing else to watch. Although the movie isnt very good, it’s not a complete waste of time either. Some may like it, but some definitely will not.
    D = Movie has major flaws. Don’t watch it unless your an uber fan of the genre, director, actor, etc.
    F = Movie has absolutely NO redeeming qualities, it’s a complete waste of film. Though for some, this alone may still be a reason to see it.

    I think Heart Is Deceitful was successful at it’s aims. It just didn’t aim very high. It was a successfully done mediocre film. Congratulations guys! :-P

  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/authors/jarvis/ Jarvis Mishler

    Avante-Garde huh? What a wonderful concept! This is were my abilities at a reviewer will always fall short. I watch movies for the stories, not so much for the artistry behind them.

    David Lynch is a very talented director. His films are often powerful, gorgeous, and disturbing. Sometimes all at once! But the guys movies just don’t make any sense. Not to me anyway.

    I’m all for breaking away from the Hollywood style, but I still think the line has to be drawn somewhere. I don’t think 2 hours of a flower growing makes a movie. Art maybe, but not a movie. At least not by the standard, common, contemporary definition.

    As a reviewer, I feel that I have no choice but to grade a particular movie by the same key used to grade the other 95% of films. Is it fair? Probably not, but there’s not much of a choice.

    If I was simply stating my thoughts on the movie, how it made me feel for example, then I wouldn’t have to resort to a uniform standard. But a reviewers job is to point others towards or away from certain films they find to be exceptional or awful. Someone has to do it.

  • Rachel

    Just a couple of thoughts….

    I don’t buy the idea that a film has to be “entertaining” in order to be worth being made. There are a lot of subjects — child abuse, for instance — that are going to be difficult or impossible to make “entertaining” while still treating the subject with respect and realism. I don’t wanna see an “entertaining” movie about child abuse. But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told in films.

    I also don’t buy the idea that a movie has to show change or growth in order to be worth being made. I may not want to watch it myself if it’s just bleak and depressing from start to finish,and I appreciate it greatly when revewiers point out that one is (and I probably won’t watch this one, for just that reason), but that doesn’t mean that the movie can’t be brilliant and important and well worth being made.

    YMMV.

  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/authors/jarvis/ Jarvis Mishler

    Entertainment: amusing, diverting, or pleasing.

    I’m fairly certain that movies are supposed to hold our attention. The goal is to grab the audience and not let them break away until you’re done telling the story you want to tell.

    I think that a movie that’s not entertaining is an oxymoron. No band wants to play music so horrible that the audience doesn’t want to listen to it. No theater group wishes to run it’s audience out of the auditorium. It defeats the purpose of going through the motions of the whole production.

    The problem is not that a movie is depressing. Depressing movies can be VERY entertaining, very diverting. They can grab your attention, force you to look at the screen, and grip you until the credits role at the end.

    A movie could force you to watch very violent child abuse, causing you to bring up some deep feelings about your own moral code. This movie didn’t. This movie simply showed some abuse on screen while allowing me to think about cleaning my apartment.

    The movie didn’t grab my attention because it had nothing to say. If it had nothing to say, why make the movie at all?

  • http://www.modernguy.net Neil Miller

    “A movie could force you to watch very violent child abuse, causing you to bring up some deep feelings about your own moral code. This movie didn’t. This movie simply showed some abuse on screen while allowing me to think about cleaning my apartment.”

    Well said, sir. I have found myself in the same position with other films recently. It is a sign of a very “entertaining” film if you cannot pry your mind away from it, if only for a moment. I like to call it the level of engagement. If a film engages my interest and forces me to focus my attention (which is a difficult task, as I have diagnosed myself with ADD), then I believe it is an entertaining film.

    Just my two cents, throw them away if you’d like.

  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    From Jarvis: I think that a movie that’s not entertaining is an oxymoron.

    And from Neil: It is a sign of a very “entertaining” film if you cannot pry your mind away from it, if only for a moment. I like to call it the level of engagement. If a film engages my interest and forces me to focus my attention (which is a difficult task, as I have diagnosed myself with ADD), then I believe it is an entertaining film.

    Again, I know we’re talking semantics, but ‘engagement’ and ‘entertainment’ are, as I understand them, convergent but separate concepts. ‘Entertainment’ implies a level of enjoyment that is not necessarily present in ‘engagement.’ I offer up as an example Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (i.e. That Movie With The Seven-Minute Rape Scene). I’ve seen it three times and appreciated it more each time, and it is an extraordinary achievement, both in terms of technical/visual brio and narrative force. The backwards structure drops the viewer right in the midst of things, thus ‘grabbing’ the viewer (you want to find out why these things are happening). But I’m not sure enjoyment factors into it — it’s a great film, but it’s also a ruthless and harrowing one, full of agonizing sights and actions. It’s brutal and depressing and generally no fun. That doesn’t make it unworthy — it just means that it’s not the kind of film to which you’d take a first date. If you’re watching something like that for ‘entertainment value,’ you’re going to be sorely disappointed. (Also, you’re kind of missing the point.)

    But then: The movie didn’t grab my attention because it had nothing to say. If it had nothing to say, why make the movie at all?

    And this is how we got here… if the movie didn’t grab your attention, why didn’t you say so? You called it ‘interesting’ four times in the review. ‘Interesting’ means there was interest in the film, i.e. it held your interest. Then when asked about that, you say it didn’t hold your attention after all. All I’m asking for is a little clarity of purpose.

    Lastly (aimless snark): No band wants to play music so horrible that the audience doesn’t want to listen to it.

    I take it you’re not familiar with Whitehouse…