14:55 - 18th December 2015, by NEO Staff

Ruined Heart

In western cinema there are usually two kinds of director: those who start their careers shooting risk-taking, experimenta,l low-budget indies but end up directing predictable mainstream fare, and those who start out making straightforward narratives but chafe under studio control and finally break free with indie abandon. However, Filipino helmer Khavn, aka Khavn de la Cruz, is neither; he’s been a true independent for over 30 years. Ruined Heart is the 46th feature by this father of Filipino digital filmmaking, and it shows in every frame captured by legendary cameraman Chris Doyle.

Yes folks, in independent world cinema terms this is a team-up of talent to rival Mendes and Deakin tackling Bond, and much like Skyfall, the explosion of creativity is all up on the screen. Still best known for his work with Wong Kar Wai, Doyle here finally tackles his personal bugbear – digital cinematography – with the best possible ally as director. Together they have created a film that is nothing short of visually stunning.

With a soundtrack of carefully curated music cuts over inaudible dialogue, this is more tone poem than traditional narrative, the kind of thing fringe theatre used to do but which has long since been usurped by surrealist cinema. If there is a story it’s literally all in the title, but that doesn’t begin to describe the experience of viewing it. Think of a Filipino Chungking Express put together by a young Takashi Miike with all the sex and violence the latter implies. Unlike a Miike or Wai film, however, this is stuffed full of nods to the giants of global independent cinema (Jarmusch, Lynch, Godard, Wenders, Jodorowsky etc.), including one black and white sequence that is Buñuelian in the purest sense.

It’s no surprise to find Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano centre stage as The Criminal, especially after being insultingly wasted in bigger films. This is the sort of cinema he cut his teeth on in ‘90s indies like Ishii’s Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl or even Anno’s Love & Pop, which was shot on mini digital cameras back in 1998! He gives the audience someone to focus on, his very presence suggesting a character with a back story not made explicit otherwise. German-Russian actress Elena Kazan, previously seen in both Indian and German flicks, matches Asano nicely as The Lover. Nathalia Acevedo as The Prostitute fits naturally into the bizarre happenings across the Manila nightscape, following her demanding role in Reygadas’ divisive Post Tenebras Lux, with one of the most striking shots entirely built on her post-orgasmic face. Khavn’s fellow local poet Vim Nadera also shows up as The Godfather.

Those parts of the terrific score not by Khavn are by Berliners Stereo Total, providing, with other chosen songs, all the ‘dialogue’ the film really needs. In the end, though, it’s Doyle’s stunning images that make this such an experience, a classic piece of pure avant-garde cinema. And in a blockbuster-dominated world, Khavn’s screen poetry is a welcome antidote to their crass commercialism and bloat.

Another international festival favourite given a great UK release courtesy of maverick label Third Window, this is either essential cutting-edge viewing or so wilfully bizarre as to be avoided depending on your tastes. Arthouse lovers should make a date with it now, but fans of genre and mainstream Asian cinema might want to skip it unless feeling particularly brave.
SCORE: 4/5
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