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Be blown away by The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Be blown away by The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
by Derich Mantonela - SGN A&E Writer

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

Opens Friday at the Varsity

Don't be put off by its cutesy title, "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" (from Jeremiah 17-9) is anything but cute or sweet.

"Heart," in fact, is everything an Indie could and should be. Nothing cute or cuddly or safe or usual here, "Heart" is about as hard-hitting and uncompromising a slice of down and dirty real life as we're likely to encounter in this season of Tarantino-inspired slasher trash and formulaic throwaway big budget soaps and cops retreads and "family fare" pablum.

"Heart" is Asia Argento's adaption of JT Leroy's collection of autobiographic stories about his dysfunctional upbringing, including his homosexual rapes as a child and subsequent gender crises, male prostitution, etc.

JT's alter ego here is Jeremiah, played as a child of about ten by Jimmy Bennett in the best "troubled youth" performance by a very young actor since Rory Culkin in "You Can Count On Me."

The film begins as Jeremiah is ripped away from his staid but stable foster parents and forced to live with his twenty-three year old druggie, truck-stop whore mother (played by Argento herself as uncompromising, brilliant and self-trashing as Charlize Theron's in "Monster").

When Jeremiah rebels, Mom tells him that his foster parents never really loved him and in fact intend to "nail you to a cross." There ensues a series of hunky, trailer-trash boyfriends who she goes off on frolics with, leaving him entirely alone, or who whip him with belts and otherwise abuse him, sexually and psychologically, while she eggs them on.

Argento's style is to let all of this happen without elaborating upon it or moralizing about it. Show, not tell. In other words, we experience it as Jeremiah himself experiences it, surreally, viscerally, emotionally, without outside intervention or hope of escape. Only by strength of character and sheer animal survival instinct does Jeremiah go with the flow of his fractured life, re-inventing himself as circumstance demands.

None of which is revealed in black and white or simplistic tones. The son/mother relationship - horrific and abusive as it is - also yields powerful aspects of desperate love and brutally honest revelations and that curious, numbing role reversal in which the child becomes the parent.

"Heart" at times seems to exist on a purely gut level, carrying us with it on a hellish ride into uncharted territory of excess and anguish, but always starkly in touch with its tormented, all too real characters.

Peter Fonda has a small, scary role as a West Virginia corporate-type minister whose "church home for boys" (many of the males in this film are knockout goodlooking) includes a daily regimen of forced cold-water bathing.

The acting is uniformly spot-on. Argento and Bennett are stunningly good, but nobody else in the cast lags behind. These are, mostly, characters you wouldn't want to cross paths with in daily life, living as they do in a world not so far removed from our own safe, boring, mainstream America as we may think. These are some of your neighbors and - if you're unlucky enough to be like Jeremiah - some of your kin.

This is a first-rate production all around: photography, editing, writing (Argento, with Alessandro Magania), milieu, and music (some of it by Sonic Youth, and including an amazingly pornographic Country-Western song about redneck lust).

"Heart" is, indeed, what independent film can be in the hands of inspired, unfettered talent.

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