Ironically, Judge Bryan Pope tells us that this film has very little to do with either heaven or the number seven. Or Jessica Biel. Damn!
An unforgettable exploration of marital dynamics.
Director Benoît Jacquot's Seventh Heaven gives us a glimpse into a troubled marriage that is on the verge of change. This compelling French film arrives on DVD courtesy of Zeitgeist Video.
Facts of the Case
Mathilde (Sandrine Kiberlain) lives a comfortable, upper-middle-class life in Paris. She is the wife of a well-known surgeon, and she has a loving son. Were it not for her kleptomania (she steals toys in department stores) and tendency to faint, one would assume she was a very happy woman. However, she is emotionally distant and sexually unresponsive. Although her husband, Nico (Vincent Lindon), recognizes these things, he is content with their marriage, stagnant as it is.
Things change when, without explanation, a psychiatrist takes an interest in Mathilde's condition, first by observing her behavior at parties and around town, then by offering treatment. He helps Mathilde find inner peace using only hypnosis and feng shui.
Now spiritually and sexually liberated, Mathilde is happy and confident. However, while she has seized control of her life, she has also changed the dynamic of her marriage. Nico is suddenly confused and frightened by a woman he feels he no longer knows, and he must come to terms with the uncertain direction of their life.
Seventh Heaven knows a thing or two about marriage, or at least marriage as I understand it. It knows that the true climate of a marriage is gauged by the details—not in the heated arguments at home or the public displays of affection, but in the subtle gestures, the quick glances at cocktail parties, the barely audible half sentences muttered from the next room. The indicators vary from marriage to marriage and are often undetectable to all but the keenest observers, but detecting these clues can be critical to a marriage in peril. And Mathilde's and Nico's marriage is most definitely in peril.
Jacquot has created an intelligent examination of a marriage that has inexplicably grown cold and lifeless. He has also given us two extraordinarily compelling characters in Mathilde and Nico.
We meet Mathilde in Jacquot's simple but effective opening. The movie begins with an out-of-focus shot of a lightly populated Parisian street. As the scene comes into focus, the camera falls on Mathilde, almost as if she were selected at random to serve as the story's protagonist.
Kiberlain, with her understated beauty, is both heartbreaking and exhilarating as Mathilde. She is frail in the first act, self-assured in the second. She also delivers Seventh Heaven's trickiest scene. While under hypnosis, she recalls a story her father told her when she was a child. The scene is slow and deliberate, and the camera carefully studies Mathilde's face and body language without cutting away. This is the crucial moment when she breaks free both emotionally and physically, and Kiberlain infuses it with a quiet power.
It would be easy to label the adulterous and sometimes overbearing Nico as the villain of the marriage if his flaws weren't offset by moments of genuine kindness and concern. Is it possible that Mathilde isn't the only victim of a decaying marriage? Jacquot doesn't say, but the fact that he films the second half of the film from Nico's point of view adds weight to this theory.
By the end, Jacquot has left many questions unanswered, not the least of which is the fate of this marriage. However, his approach is honest, so this should not be taken as criticism.
Seventh Heaven is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and it looks beautiful. This presentation perfectly showcases the film's soft but gorgeous palette of golds, blues, and browns. The French soundtrack is provided in Dolby surround. While the sound is not very full, the dialogue is always crisp, and the gentle and lovely score sounds fine. The disc includes optional English subtitles.
It's unfortunate that a film this rich gets a barebones treatment, but there you have it. No commentary, no trailers, no liner notes. Nothing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If Jacquot missteps, it's only in asking us to accept that Mathilde's deeply rooted emotional imbalance could be easily corrected by hypnosis and a rearrangement of her furniture. Once we learn that she is harboring a painful family secret, this becomes even less plausible. Still, this questionable plot point gave me only a moment's pause. It isn't enough to blemish Jacquot's otherwise fine film.
The $30 list price may seem high for a disc with no extras, but this is a marvelous transfer of a thought-provoking, beautifully made movie. For French film enthusiasts or those who are interested in a movie about the nature of marriage and change, I would wholeheartedly recommend buying Seventh Heaven.
Not guilty, although Zeitgeist Films is on probation for its appalling lack of extras on this fine film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
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