SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 11, 2010
Director: Dagur Kri
Writer: Dagur Kri
Starring: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Isild Le Besco
We meet a homeless young man named Lucas (Paul Dano) – looking eerily similar to Evan Dando during one of his heroin-infused daze of the mid-90s – as he sits with his pet kitten inside a dilapidated cardboard box under a bridge. Then we are introduced to Jacques (Brian Cox), a bitter and jaded old fart, who also looks like a bum but is actually an owner of a bar frequented by a multicultural handful of eccentric beatniks.
While listening to a relaxation audio tape, Jacques is instructed to connect his index finger and thumb – this is the first moment when we realize that Jacques is by no means a relaxed person and it is only a matter of seconds before he suffers his fifth heart attack. Lucas, too, is waking up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt; thus the hand of fate shamelessly determines that Jacques and Lucas will become roommates.
Lucas explains to his doctor, “When it comes to survival of the fittest, I just have to throw in the towel…I don’t follow the rules of civilization anymore; I’m outside, I am an animal.” Nonetheless, Lucas takes the doctor’s advice – a metaphor about “sharing the coconut” – to heart. Full of thanks for the hospital’s help in saving his life, Lucas signs up to become an organ donor. As we get to know Lucas better, we learn just how pure of heart Lucas is.
Soon Lucas and Jacques are released from the hospital, and it is not long before Jacques takes in Lucas in as his protégé to take over his bar. Jacques trains Lucas to become tougher, thickening his skin to prepare him for the primal evils of the world (or at least the world of Jacques’ bar); all the while, Lucas’ unadulterated goodness slowly rubs off on Jacques.
However, Jacques training is not quick enough to prepare Lucas for the feminine wiles of the helpless April (Isild Le Besco). Lucas is immediately smitten by April and wants to protect her as if she were a lost kitten; but Jacques’ anger escalates tenfold with April’s presence, culminating with Jacques’ sixth heart attack.
The most intriguing aspect of The Good Heart is the clever use of the ambiguity of place – this could be anywhere. Everyone except Lucas has an accent, yet the only characters that are identified as being foreign are of Southeast Asian decent (Jacques degradingly refers to them as “Orientals”); while the bleak urban landscape offers no clear identifiers. This could be because the film was made by French, Danish, Icelandic, German and U.S. producers (writer-director Dagur Kari was born in France to Icelandic parents – his father is the Icelandic writer Pétur Gunnarsson) and was shot in Iceland and the U.S.
Sure, Kari’s The Good Heart can be a bit heavy-handed at times, pushing the good heart and bad heart metaphor a bit too far at the all-too-predictable and cringe-worthy conclusion (I would have been much more impressed if the film ended five minutes earlier); but the glorious acid-tinged lines of dialogue (“Son of a mother fucking lesbian bitch”; “Tough titty for a kitty”; “I didn’t know you were so sensitive about your Communistic past, can I call you a Capitalistic swine?”; “You crazy Catholic fuck, lucky bastard, fucking those beautiful cows all day long”; “For a billion dollars I’ll give you a scenic tour of my anal canals. How do you like them apples?”) that roll effortlessly off the characters’ tongues and the highly method-ical acting make this bitterly stiff drink go down rather easily.