Monday, June 29, 2015

NYAFF ’15: Ruined Heart

When you are a lowlife criminal type, you are likely to meet similar kinds of folk. That doesn’t mean love is impossible, but happily-ever-afters are highly unlikely. Filipino digital micro-cinema legend Khavn [de la Cruz] will graphically illustrate the perils of underworld romance in Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

Neither “The Criminal” nor “The Whore” are what you might call Chatty Cathies, but when they get together they have better ways to spend time than with small talk. They met when he comes to whack one of her clients and they apparently just hit it off. Frankly, we never hear them exchange a single word, so we just have to infer from their actions. Of course, such employee fraternization is strongly discouraged by the “God Father,” a strange New Age evangelist who controls all the vice in the Metro Manila slums. Eventually, they will have to take their love on the lam, but not before they guide the audience through a tour of the back alleys and private sex clubs of their world.

If you know Khavn’s work you probably either love it or hate it. With Ruined Heart, he doubles down on his extreme aesthetic. It is a hard film to have mixed feelings about, unless you are taken with the soundtrack. Truly, it is like a monster party mix on MDMA. Many of the groove-friendly tracks are collaborations between Khavn and the Euro Electropop duo Stereo Total, but it also features steel guitarist Buddy Emmons’ rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon.

So yes, Ruined sounds awesome and it looks . . . distinctive. Frankly, Khavn is not shy about showing bodily fluids, in especially gross contexts. He also revels in the grunginess of the slum environment. Yet, he also has an eye for the beautifully surreal. Celebrated cinematographer Christopher Doyle (best known for his work with Wong Kar Wai) frames everything for maximum effect, whether it be grotesque or seductive.

Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano and Mexican actress Nathalia Acevedo do rather remarkable work, considering they must rely solely on body language rather than dialogue. They are undeniably electric together. Someone will surely say the Manila slum also serves as a character in the film, but Khavn is really going for the immersive sensation of life in such desperate close quarters rather than a particular sense of place, per se.

Obviously, we know the general arc Khavn’s narrative will take right from the opening credits. So do the sub-title characters, yet they still make their inevitably tragic choices anyway, which is quite compelling. Recommended for the elite few, who look where grubby exploitation movies overlap with experimental art cinema to find their sort of films, Ruined Heart screens this Thursday (7/2) at the Walter Reade and next Saturday (7/11) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.