Sunday, May 2, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Good Heart

The Good Heart
Directed by Dagur Kari
Released April 30, 2010

“The Good Heart” is a movie about two people who live in a world apart from everyone else. According to Jacques, a bartender who serves only regulars, a bar is a place for men only, because it provides a refuge from women. His apprentice and only friend is Lucas, a homeless boy he met while the two were in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack and a suicide attempt, respectively. Two loners come together and begin to understand how the other sees the world – they may not get very far in sharing the same ideals, but it is their interaction that serves as the moral, driving center of the entertaining “The Good Heart.”

This is director Dagur Kari’s third film, as well as the third primarily used language in his films. After making “Noi” in 2003 in Icelandic and “Dark Horse” in Danish in 2005, the prolific auteur is completing a trilogy of sorts, though he stresses that each of his films “have explored different themes.” He has been working on this film for at least five or six years, and claims that seventy percent came to him at the beginning and it took the remainder of that time for the other thirty percent to materialize. Kari especially enjoys making films “that are open and which can lead to new interpretations,” and he is always pleased to hear that someone has reacted to a film of his is an unexpected way. His latest movie features seemingly detestable characters, yet there is something extremely endearing about them.

Interestingly enough, “The Good Heart” was inspired by good sitcoms, according to its director. By definition, he says, “a sitcom character cannot develop and therefore exists only in a closed, clearly defined world with the same wonderful people.” Citing influences from “The Simpsons” to “Seinfeld,” Kari describes his intent to “merge comedy with art.” The problem with comedy, he explains, is that it is often too shallow, while artistic films often take themselves much too seriously. “The Good Heart” would hardly seem like a sitcom at first glance, but upon further investigation, the comedy is really its driving force. Jacques is a darkly comic character who never even tries to make friends, and Kari says that it was great fun to write lines for him since he is so “foul-mouthed and allows himself to be so rude all the time.” Such an irate and impolite character is reminiscent of a less obviously loveable Archie Bunker.

“The Good Heart” offered up the chance for actors Brian Cox and Paul Dano to re-team for the first time since the two collaborated in Dano’s debut feature, “L.I.E.” in 2001. Whereas Dano looked to Cox as a paternal figure during the filming of their first film together, he now considers him more like a friend because he has had the chance to grow up in the past decade. Nine years later, the two work together wonderfully in this film. Dano describes Cox’s opportunity to play Jacques as a “sick job,” while Kari calls it “liberating.” Both insist that Cox, who was originally slated to take part in the interview but was stranded in Europe due to a flight cancellation following the volcano eruption, is nowhere near as unfriendly or crass in real life as his character in the movie. Regardless of his real-life persona, Cox is terrific in a fearsome performance as Jacques.

A major part of “The Good Heart” is its setting in New York City. Kari says he chose the Big Apple because it was important that the film take place in an iconic metropolitan city, and New York is a city with which he “has a personal connection.” Dano’s character, Lucas, is homeless, a fact which is never explained, but New York City is a place where homelessness unfortunately serves as a tremendous and altogether too common problem. Dano explains that, as a New York native, homeless people really upset him when he was young and growing up in the city. Any person who has spent a good amount of time in New York City can relate to Dano’s experience, and it is unlikely that such a soul as Lucas has been encountered among the homeless on the street by your average New Yorker, which makes him all the more fascinating.

Ironically, only the film’s exteriors were filmed in New York, and most of the film’s scenes, including the interior of the bar, were shot in Iceland. Dano points out that “they know how to drink in Iceland,” attributing to the effect the fact that there were nearly twenty-four hours of sunlight in the country at the time the movie was filming, creating a never-ending day where even the middle of the night felt like the morning. Kari likens the bar to a main character of sorts, and says that he focused so intently on it because “writing is a lonely process,” and creating a setting in which you feel good helps greatly. This is a movie about a relationship formed mostly in a bar, and in it Kari has found two enticing and compelling characters and helped bring them to life.


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