The Londonist team is divided over this movie - one of us hates it (along with Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian: "relentlessly shallow, wearyingly incurious" ) but one of us loves it. See if you can guess which of us is writing the review.
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is based on the work of JT Leroy (hand up - haven't read him) and has left viewers divided. Fans of the stories feel something was missing while others just see the film as a glorified vanity project or a failed attempt to shock. It tells the story of young Jeremiah who is plucked from the safety of his foster parents and handed back to his mother, Sarah (played by director Asia Argento). What follows is a roller coaster ride of drugs, rape, prostitution, evangelism, death, madness and punk rock. It's a hell of a movie.
Along the way our young hero crosses paths with Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder and Marilyn Manson who respectively teach him about the merits of a good bible, that none of this is his fault and fuck him in the arse. Jeremiah is a resilient little soul though and after an initial failure to accept Sarah as his mother (she fixes that by getting him to swallow a couple of pills) the drug addled part time prostitute soon becomes his touchstone.
At the Q&A following the movie Ms Argento insisted saying that Sarah herself directed the movie (this would sound pretentious coming from anyone but Dario Argento's daughter) which explains why at times the images are lost in amateur cuts and camera effects, but also gives the movie a beautiful feeling of free fall. The scenes of abuse are not very explicit (stop motion crows tend to obscure the frame) and Jeremiah although traumatised bounces back with a world weary shrug of the shoulders that most people have when resigned to their lot in the world. After being 'rescued' by Sarah from his grandparents he amiably steps back into her crazy life by crawling into a stranger's truck to meet his new daddy.
Harry Potter this is not
But it is magical. It's very similar in theme to Todd Solondz' Palindromes (we asked Argento if she'd seen it, "No, I don't watch movies" was the reply) but that was lacking something, heart maybe, where this is spot on perfect. Worth the price of admission alone for the scene when Jeremiah is asked by his new evangelical family if he knows any psalms only to burst into 'Anarchy in the UK'. At one moment in the movie after finding himself abandoned for the weekend in a locked house he creates a family for himself by scrawling childish people on the wall only for his new 'father' to return without his mother from the honeymoon - she left him when his money ran out. Later another surrogate family is literally destroyed when the meth lab they live on explodes and things finally come to a head in the son/mother relationship with Jeremiah swallowing 'medicine' to cure what has poisoned him and ruined his mother's life.
Meeting Asia Argento after meeting Sarah is a strange experience. Asia is all accent and intensity as she talks to Alan Jones and the audience, not afraid to dismiss stupid questions along with the 'pricks' in Hollywood. When asked about her xXx co star Vin Diesel she laughingly recalls how she offered him the role of the retard but he turned it down thinking the film too dark. She signed up for The Keeper only to get close to Dennis Hopper so she could persuade him to take the role of 'Grandfather', but "he's an L.A. guy - he worries about his age" so in revenge for him turning the part down she offered it to Peter Fonda. Asked about the casting of Manson by one of the many goths in the audience she said she wanted to see him without his makeup as pot bellied trailer trash "like he really is". After twenty minutes or so she bounced back away from the screen to DJ in the bar so that she "didn't have to talk to people". Most of the audience (male and female alike) seemed satisfied with just looking.
The movie is still playing at the ICA and we expect a killer DVD release from Tartan (is anyone else releasing anything even halfway as cool as Tartan's latest acquisitions?) and yet more of Asia splashed onto the covers of magazines in the next couple of weeks. See it if you like auters over Hollywood drivel or if you simply like the idea of Winona Ryder playing with anatomically correct rape dolls.
The official website for the movie is here. Asia Argento's official website is here. And The Guardian gets excited about the fact that Asia has been undressed, raped and generally psychologically traumatised in her father's movies here.