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Saturday, Oct. 9, 1999

'Heart' dripping with raw emotion

British movies tend to reflect the British temperament (at least as we know it): more witty than emotional, more cynical than sentimental and much too disciplined to splatter blood and gore all over the screen. "Heart," however, is a U.K. film that defies the rules and thrusts all the things we've learned not to expect, right under our noses. It's like opening a paper package that one thinks contains, say, crackers or whiskey and finding instead, fresh blood sausages.

Indeed, if movies can be described in colors, then "Heart" is red to the core -- blood red, bullfight red, the red of "I see red." So powerful is its color scheme that it recalls stories about Roman festivals in the time of Nero, when people gathered in huge stadiums, tore off hunks of meat from freshly killed animals and proceeded to feast.

But "Heart" is also a sensitive and cerebral analysis of that resilient little muscle: the human heart. On screen, much has been said about the heart in relation to love but the heart as an organ has been practically ignored, this loyal soldier that goes on beating even after the brain is dead. And though we are told the heart is not the seat of human emotions, no one is likely to sing about brain aches or write poems about the brain breaking from unrequited love. The essence, the spirit, the very truth of a person is thought to reside somewhere in the heart -- which perhaps explains why after the French Revolution, some peasants dug up the grave of Louis XVI, tore out his heart and ate it.

Don't mean to put you off your food here, but "Heart" is a movie that reminds one of all these excessive carnivorous episodes to the point that one could easily become vegetarianism's newest convert. Surely Director Charles McDougall and screenwriter Jimmy McGovern had intended something of the sort when during the opening scene, a woman comes into a commuter train car holding a brown paper bag (the kind people put sandwiches in) that's dripping with -- why that looks like blood, doesn't it -- dripping and soiling her dress front. Her hands are sticky and red as she fumbles in her wallet for the ticket.

But in spite of such trappings "Heart" is about love, a love that goes horribly wrong. Gary (Christopher Eccleston) has a weak heart which confines him to his home most of the time. He correctly suspects that his TV producer wife Tess (Kate Hardie) is having an affair with TV writer Alex (Rhys Ifans) and this is literally breaking his heart.

In another town, Maria (Saskia Reeves) is living happily with her 17-year-old son until he dies in a car accident triggered by coke addict Nicola (Anna Chancellor). The son had an organ donor card and the hospital asks Maria for his heart. Reluctantly she agrees, on condition that it at least go to "someone with kids." The chief surgeon smiles and says of course. But the heart winds up in the chest of Gary who feels like a new man given a fresh start.

Maria's son was a scholarship student and a superb amateur boxer who was slated for the next Olympics. He had everything going for him until his life was cut short by a worthless coke fiend and then his heart given away to a bloke obsessed with his wife's sex life. This is what Maria cannot get around, the painful unfairness and unworthiness of it all. Still she can't help lurking around Gary, just to be near him or more accurately, his chest in which beats the heart she loved above all.

It's obvious that Maria's love for her boy had been more than maternal. She had him when she was 16 and had apparently known no other man. She had given her whole life to raising him and giving him a good home. All the more reason for her to be disappointed in Gary and angry with Tess, who is the brittle, female exec type uninterested in children or home life.

"Heart" shows a whole other side to organ transplants -- who qualifies and who doesn't and who is made to suffer the most. It's no wonder that the names of donors and recipients are strictly classified information and known only to the surgeons who are (if we believe the movie) more interested in enhancing their transplant career than any moral issue that may be at stake. These issues pile one on top of the other to form an ending extravagant with tragedy. Shakespeare would have been proud.

"Heart" opens at the Cine Amuse Theater in Shibuya from Oct. 16

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