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Palm Pictures presents
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)

"You're going to have so much fun with me you have no idea."
- Sarah (Asia Argento)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 05, 2006

Stars: Jimmy Bennett, Cole Sprouse, Dylan Sprouse, Asia Argento
Other Stars: Jeremy Sisto, Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Ornella Muti, Michael Pitt, Ben Foster, Lydia Lunch, Jeremy Renner, John Robinson
Director: Asia Argento

MPAA Rating: R for (intense depiction of child abuse/neglect, strong sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence.)
Run Time: 01h:35m:23s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 660200313128
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+C+B B

DVD Review

There are a few layers to this 2004 film from Asia Argento, the first of which has to do with its origins as a book by mysterious author JT Leroy, who shot to literary fame with his supposed true-life tales of childhood abuse. The real identity of the author became something of a treasure hunt, and it was eventually revealed that Leroy was not who he said he was, and was in fact a woman, commonly believed to be one Laura Albert (though this has never been formally substantiated). To have Leroy's place in ultra-cool literary circles exposed as some kind of grand hoax only made his/her writings more mysterious, and the material—whether true or not—remains gritty, emotional work.

The other layers have to do with the film itself, which waffles between reality and fantasy, a work by a fictional writer presented more or less as truth. And that brings us to Argento's adaptation of Leroy's 2002 book, the allegedly biographical saga of Jeremiah (Jimmy Bennett) a seven-year-old boy torn away from his loving foster family to be forcibly reunited with his selfishly drug-addled mother Sarah (Argento), who uncorks here like an extreme version of Courtney Love. Jeremiah is fed cold Spaghetti-Os and given baby toys, and has to endure an endless heaping of verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual assaults from not just his mother, but also her numerous male companions, all of whom have an equally dangerous stripe.

I don't want to go into great lengths about the vile day-to-day realities inflicted upon Jeremiah, but they seem ten times worse when endured by the wide-eyed Bennett, who delivers a beautifully frightened and numb performance that is spot-on perfect. Plain and simple: it's just a remarkable acting job that stands out in film sprinkled with an assortment of strong supporting players (Peter Fonda, Ornella Muti), to say nothing of a riveting, out-of-control spin by Argento.

Then, about midway through, the story jumps forward three years, and Jeremiah is from then on played (alternatingly) by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse, who rework the role after the boy has been indoctrinated by a maniacally religious grandfather, played by Peter Fonda. The "new" Jeremiah gets the same old abuse, but in one of the defining disturbing moments, the boy finally bonds, be it ever so briefly, with his mother. This leads to an encounter with another of Sarah's male companions (played by Marilyn Manson) that is as horrific as it is cleverly shot by Argento, and the followup scene boldly tells us what we already feared.

This is ugly stuff, and Argento shows a flair for documenting it all with a stylish eye, but maybe that's a family trait coming through. I don't expect a film like to this to get anywhere close to the mainstream radar, but is definitely one of those emotionally black experiences that showcase a director who knows when to not cave in to normalcy.

There is what seems like an odd edit about eighty minutes in, and it almost appears that a scene is missing; even the pacing of the commentary seems off, as if something was cut. I'm unclear if this is intentional on Argento's part, and the frantic confusion of what is going on seems to indicate that perhaps a substantial transitional moment occurred, though it is never properly explained.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: It might be 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, but the transfer itself is a little shoddy. Lots of specking and grain, and colors sometimes get a little smeary, especially during darker sequences. Image detail is soft throughout, and the overall presentation is less than remarkable.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo, though the difference between the two is really thin. Not much in the way of surround cues to make the 5.1 a necessary option, and the stereo mix works just as effectively. Voice quality is equally clear on both, and the lack of any broad directional/spatial cues is hardly a huge distraction for the harsh ugliness Argento uncorks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Clean, Sunday Driver, The Directors Label Series Vol. 4-7
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Asia Argento, Chris Hanley
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 24-page booklet
Extras Review: The best part of the supplements is the 24-page color booklet entitled Exposing A Hoax, with photographs by Mick Rock, the so-called "man who shot the '70s," best known for his shots of Bowie, Iggy and the Sex Pistols. Here Rock has unusual candid photos of assorted cast and crew (including JT Leroy), with some truly odd quotes from Argento regarding Leroy's nether regions. Rock is real iconic figure in his own right, and this booklet shows his talent at doing more than just framing faces.

A commentary track from a very "tired" sounding Argento and producer Chris Hanley touches primarily on her vision for translating the book, down to very small details such as the color of Jeremiah's walls. Hanley doesn't seem as up on the project as I would have imagined, and it's up to Argento to sometimes slur her way through relaying how a particular shot was made, or how she fought to hold off on a proper title sequence.

Of less interest is the New York Film Premiere (14m:16s) and Cannes 2004 footage of JT Under Cover (29m:05s), both of which go with a fly-on-the-wall approach and have less than decent audio, making slogging through them not always rewarding. The Cannes footage has Leroy looking hipster cool in big shades and an all black ensemble, while Argento goes on at length about her art.

The press release mentioned an abundance of Easter Eggs, but I couldn't find any. There is, however, the wonderfully gloomy theatrical trailer, as well as a few other previews for Palm titles. The movie itself is cut into 18 chapters.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Here's a dark and ugly look at a young boy and his dysfunctionally abusive mother from arthouse cult hero Asia Argento, based on the mythical writings of mythical writer JT Leroy.

Not a feel-good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's cemented by an astonishing heartbreaking performance from Jimmy Bennett as the young Jeremiah, as well as Cole and Dylan Sprouse as the religion-numbed older version, and of course, Argento's brutally selfish portrayal of a woman on the far flung fringe of normalcy. And it does have music by Sonic Youth on the soundtrack.

Highly recommended.

 


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