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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Film Review: Dark Hearts

Dark Hearts is an odd love story about two brothers, one of whom is a painter, the other being…well, a painter’s assistant, I suppose. They both fall for the same woman, though it is the painter who approaches her first. She warns him early on that she’s no good, and indeed, a lot of trouble is brought into the brothers’ lives through her presence. But the painter also finds his artistic voice, and artists will go to great lengths for their muses. This is a film that is awkward early on, but gets much better as it goes along.

The film opens with a shot of a car driving in the desert. A man and woman get out and remove a foul-smelling sack from the trunk (presumably a body), and a gas can. They drag the sack behind a large rock and set fire to it.

The film then cuts to two weeks earlier (that “2 weeks earlier” on screen is the film’s biggest problem, as at least three months’ worth of stuff happens, but more on that later), and Sam (Lucas Till), the man we saw in the desert, and his older brother, Colson (Kyle Schmid), go into a club where a sexy girl group is performing. Colson is immediately taken with the sexy, charismatic lead singer, Fran (Sonja Kinski). And who wouldn’t be?

Colson approaches her at the bar, and is watched by an older man, Armand (Goran Visnjic). Fran tells Colson, “He manages this place…and me.” A nice, simple sentence that indicates a lot. Soon she and Colson are out in her convertible, making love. Apparently Colson abandoned his younger brother. But  Sam got home all right, because the next scene finds the three of them in Colson’s studio in the morning, with Colson sketching Fran. Moments later Fran asks Sam is he’s ever been with a woman, which seems a ridiculous question to ask someone you haven’t even met yet. But worse is Sam’s response: “Oh yeah, a lot, loads” (meaning, of course, no, he hasn’t ever been with a woman). Perhaps she thinks he’s gay? After all, it’s not like his fourteen.

Fran then tells Colson, “You hunger for the truth, yet you find it in other people but never in yourself.” Wait, didn’t they meet just last night? When did she find the time to get to know him? Time is a big issue in this film. Clarissa, the woman that Colson has been painting shows up for a sitting. Upon seeing Fran, she says, “Onto the next muse already, huh?” Colson responds, rather cruelly, “Come on, this time it’s special.” Interestingly, Clarissa is the keyboardist in Fran’s band, and apparently the two of them have had some sort of relationship.

Well, though Armand saw Colson with Fran at the bar, apparently his jealousy takes a day to manifest, and he shows up at Fran’s place, and smashes her guitar. As much as I hate to see a guitar being destroyed in any film (it even drives me nuts in Animal House), this scene is actually really good, because Fran immediately breaks down. We’ve only seen her as a cool rocker chick, seemingly in control of every situation, so it’s wonderful to see her weakness. It’s the moment we begin to like her.

Even with Clarissa taking off, Colson is able to finish his painting of her and takes it to Astrid (Juliet Landau), who has a gallery with Colson’s earlier work. (Any time there is an artist named Astrid, I think of the woman from Hamburg who was associated with The Beatles early in their career, and wonder if the character is named after her.) Anyway, Astrid tells Colson that there have been no sales, but then oddly offers him a larger studio space (which doesn’t really make sense). She tells him there’s a show next Friday, and asks him to bring something fresh.

Meanwhile Armand and a crony attack Colson and Sam. And Colson’s blood gives him an idea of how to create the painting of Fran. He then finishes the painting, and it’s great, and he takes it to the gallery as Astrid had requested. So it’s already the following Friday, so approximately a week has passed. (Remember, this entire film takes place in only two weeks.) Astrid tells him: “You found your voice. Now use it.” She encourages him to do more paintings more like this one. But of course that means more blood. He starts cutting himself, and Fran donates her blood as well (she says, “Here, paint more of me,” as she holds out her bleeding arm).

His next painting of her is excellent. But again, it leads me to wondering about the timeline. Astrid tells him she’s going to get him a solo show at the end of the month. The fact that he has only two new paintings doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Besides the timeline and some clunky dialogue, there are a few other problems. There is a scene where Armand attacks Sam in Fran’s apartment. He holds Sam down and then hits him with his belt. Apparently, Armand had blood or red paint on his belt, because after he hits Sam with it, it leaves a big wet red stain on Sam’s yellow T-shirt (it can’t be Sam’s blood, because the T-shirt isn’t even torn). The second hit leaves more red near the shoulder of his T-shirt (a stain which then moves in the next shot). In that scene, we learn that Sam was abused as a child, as he flashes back to his childhood.

Sam suggests paying homeless people for their blood so that Colson can continue painting, which leads to some silliness. But it is soon after that that the film really starts to get good. Colson begins going a bit mad. Armand shows up at this place with Clarissa, which is interesting, but then attacks Fran. In self-defense, Fran ends up providing Colson with even more blood.

After that, we see Colson painting. And there are flies and maggots. He tells Sam, “You get used to the smell.” And Sam tells him, “We’ve got to get rid of that body soon.” Again, how much time has passed? This is the longest two weeks in history. Colson really begins going mad, but his work is getting even more interesting (the artwork created for this film is quite striking). And even Sam has a moment where he hallucinates, so it’s clear that Colson isn’t the only one that’s being affected by these events. Things are certainly getting weird.

And then Colson has his show. So it’s now the end of the month. And yet two weeks have not yet passed. How is this possible? Anyway, a lot more is fit into that increasingly magical fortnight before the film ends and we end up back in the desert. But by now we’re caught up in the film and allow it all the room and time it needs. The feel of this film is interesting, as are its characters. It just seems that the structure didn’t receive enough care and attention. It just needs a bit more work to be believable. But a good deal of the film is still enjoyable.

Dark Hearts was directed by Rudolf Buitendach, and was released on DVD on April 29, 2014.

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