MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART
(directed by Vincent Ward, 1993)
***** (out of 5)
> I talk a lot in these cinema reviews about the film’s sense of time and place. These things are very important in most movies, to anchor the story into a reality we can relate to. Rarely has a film had a stronger sense of time and place than MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART. New Zealander Vincent Ward, (WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, THE LAST SAMAURI, and one of my favorite sci-fi films THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY), directed this unique look at the intersection between Inuit and white culture in northern Canada, beginning in the early 1930’s.
. This film has enormous scope, following the main character, nicknamed “Holy Boy”, from his early childhood being raised in Eskimo culture, through young adulthood and into his final days. It’s a joint venture between Canada, New Zealand, England and Australia, and apart from a few flat spots marred by spotty acting, it paid-off in spades. The story is a very compelling and unpredictable romantic adventure. Things are set into motion when early aviator Patrick Bergin flies into the white wilderness of the Arctic Circle to make the first detailed maps of the remote area. The natives have never seen a plane, and young Holy Boy is fascinated by the “flying bird” and the mapmaking process. When he is found to have consumption, the Aviator insists of taking the boy to England for medical care- a decision that alters the boy’s life forever. (“The boy has white man’s disease. He needs white man’s medicine”, the chartmaker tells Holy Boy’s aging grandmother- the only family he has left. Left at a church orphanage, Holy Boy slowly recovers, learning to speak English, and falling in love with a fellow “half-breed” girl in the convent school. (French actress Jeanne Moreau is wickedly awful as a severe nun who has it out for the two young troublemakers. She is certain their souls are bound for Hell, and as she beats Holy Boy for cursing, she admonishes: “Protestant! Protestant! Protestant!”)
. Flash-forward in years and Holy Boy is a strapping man, played by an earnest Jason Scott Lee. He has enlisted in WWII and is now flying bombing missions in Europe. These combat action scenes are intense and riveting! This modest film looks like a big budget blockbuster at times like this. The photography, editing, soundtrack and effects are first rate. All the production values are high here, and the film is frequently beautiful to look at. Holy Boy is reunited, by a stroke of fate, with his childhood sweetheart and the film begins to veer off into melodrama with a romantic triangle subplot that would have worked much better with a more capable actress in the part. Though Anne Parillaud (quite good in LA FEMME NIKITA), looked and sounded amazingly like the child actress who played her, she seemed out of place here. Her acting chops felt a notch below everyone else’s when she was unable to make believable emotional transitions when the script called for them.
. Too bad. A very good film could have been a great film with better casting and a bit less melodrama.
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