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.Seventh Heaven (1997)
. "Seventh heaven," the phrase, originates in the
Talmud where it refers to the highest heaven where God and the most exalted angels dwell.
(Why does it come as no surprise that an Old Testament heaven would be hierarchical and
angels there are not all created equal?) "Seventh heaven," as used colloquially,
means, of course, bliss.
Seventh Heaven, the film by Benoit Jacquot (whose Single Girl we liked, but The School of Flesh we didn't), is about a couple who seem closer to third hell than to seventh heaven. He is a successful surgeon. She works for her family's law firm. They have a gorgeous young son and a Paris apartment appropriate to their upper middle class standing.
From the start we know things are askew. Our heroine, Mathilde (Sandrine Kimberlaine), first shown deliberately out of focus (gotta watch the foreshadowing), walks about somewhat dispiritedly (solo flute music on the soundtrack - loneliest sound imaginable), engages in minor shoplifting, and has a tendency to faint at awkward moments. She is also sexually frigid, which her husband seems not to mind too much. At least she doesn't fake it, he says to her after a rather pathetic session in the sack.
Enter the agent of change, a mysterious hypnotherapist/Feng Shui practitioner (Francois Berleand - who plays the homosexual rival to Isabelle Huppert in The School of Flesh). There is some evidence from M. Jacquot that the man is really somewhere inside Mathilde's pretty, if confused, head. She follows him into a store which just happens to be one of her regular spots for shoplifting. She gets caught with the goods, faints and - presto! - there he is at her side, whisking her off for a lunch of poached salmon. Nonetheless, he functions as a listener (and a questioner who seems to know the answers in advance) so that we learn a lot about Mathilde's family history, not to speak of how to rearrange the furniture in her apartment, the obvious solution to sexual dysfunction. The accumulated information (including the therapist's hand running up her leg) begins to seem like a Bunuel-influenced trip into Jung. The film has that sort of funny-but-not-really tone.
When Mathilde's therapy/fantasy works, she glows with health, returns to work, and has newly found sexual passion. Now we first get to see a bit of Nico, her husband (Vincent Lindon, very masculine here, who plays the transvestite in The School of Flesh). He is totally thrown off balance by her changes. He's been playing caretaker, not husband, and it evidently has been a role that suits him. As an orthopedic surgeon, he helps patients to walk straight; his wife is now walking straight without his help and he doesn't know how to handle it. They've been loving one another, one of the lines goes, "but not liking the way we love each other."
There is a heavy scene with Mathilde's mother, a woman who would suffice as an explanation of neuroses a lot worse than anything Mathilde has been suffering. This intrusive, manipulative attorney (is that redundant?) deals with her son-in-law as another tool in her kit. He owes her, she makes clear to him, and he has repaid handsomely by producing her beautiful grandson. Now she wants him to properly service her daughter. What is a guy to do? Try hypnosis, of course. It seems to have worked for the wife.
Jacquot treads a tricky line in this film between comedy, romance, and more serious psychological study. (He co-wrote the film, as well as directed it.) It is rich in incident and imagery, and the lead couple are genuinely appealing. So is their little boy who says to his Dad with not quite complete innocence, "Do you love us when you're sober?'')
Still, at least on first viewing, there seemed to be too many red herrings here, too many pieces of the puzzle that were either not clear or didn't quite fit. I suspect Jacquot knows how they do, but, with so much going on on the screen, it doesn't all get across.
Nonetheless, he draws strong performances from his able cast, and he fills the screen with ideas, if not always fully realized. Far preferable to the mindless drivel filling the theaters lately. Jacquot, who has been involved in filming for nearly 35 years, has a quirky kind of creativity, highly original. No two of his films seem alike. Yet, the films somehow seem like the work of a less experienced director with great hope for the future. Maybe we will yet get a film from him where all the pieces fit together and his great filming skills turn into great film art.
- Arthur Lazere