Title: “Black Heaven”
Genre: Thriller, Action/Adventure
Language and Run Time: French, 100 minutes
Director: Gilles Marchand
Cast: Gregoire LePrince-Ringuet, Louise Bourgoin, Melvil Poupaud
Black Heaven has its pros and cons like any other movie, but on the whole I would say it is a worthwhile film. The acting is not quite A-list and in the beginning the dialog is a little slow and simple, but in the end the movie conveys a powerful message.
On our journey to figuring out what this mysterious Black Heaven could be, we follow the travails of Gaspard on vacation with his girlfriend in southern France. After picking up a stranger’s abandoned cell phone, reviewing the messages, and tailing a couple from their rendezvous point, Gaspard and Marion unwittingly stumble upon a joint suicide. When the two hear a dog barking they trace the sound to a car in which a man and woman have committed suicide by stopping up the car’s exhaust pipe and recording their death on a video camera.
Gaspard, however, notices that the girl is still alive and saves her from the attempted suicide, only to run into her at a party a few days later with some friends. This chance reconnection sends Gaspard down a road of obsession with the mysterious woman named Audrey, leading to an addiction to a dark, massive multiplayer online game called “Black Hole.” The film effectively employs symbolism and recurring themes to set the ominous tone of the journey and provide a glimpse into the dark future intertwined with Audrey’s fate.
For example, the same dog that was at the car during the suicide was at the apartment party and was actually responsible for leading Gaspard into the back rooms as if he was knowingly guiding him to her. The dog resurfaced a few more times in the movie to confirm the nagging fears associated with the events surrounding the dog’s appearance. Secondly, when Gaspard watches the videotape we clearly see Audrey staring at the camera with a knowing, calculated, almost pleased smile. Not only does this provide a chilling image, but it also introduces the sinister possibility that she has manipulated the man into suicide and is sure of her actions and her fate. These remain mere suspicions, however, never openly addressed until later occurrences provider greater insight into the more complex workings of the plot.
Another clue comes in the form of a tattoo on her lower back that reads “Heaven.” The exact meaning is not immediately clear, but when Gaspard finds out what computer game she plays he discovers that the game’s version of “Heaven” resembles a dark, solitary place where sinister shadows of red cling to the walls. The atmosphere is not quite your typical depiction of heaven, but more closely resembles the connotations of an alternate “Black Heaven.” A greater sense of foreboding hangs over our protagonist when a player in the game informs him that such a tattoo indicates that a person “is a slave to Heaven,” a notion reinforced by the binding of Sam’s (Audrey’s character name in the game) hands during her virtual singing performance.
This game becomes the medium through which the film’s main themes are illustrated. As Gaspard becomes more and more committed to meeting up with Audrey he becomes more and more distant from Marion, forgetting the time of day, blowing her off to go swimming or to parties with Audrey and his friends, and forgetting to pick her up from work. The deterioration of their relationship quickly becomes apparent to Gaspard’ s two friends, Ludo and Yann. Ludo clearly distinguishes himself as the true friend that tries to keep Gaspard’s integrity in tact and his mind focused on the woman he loves and consequences of pursuing a seductively mysterious woman that he does not even know. Yann on the otherhand, repeatedly encourages experimentation and infidelity through excited questions about them “hooking up” at the apartment party as well as encouraging him to go to the other parties with Audrey and try to push the physical boundaries. Thus, two major issues are illuminated through the following situations: Gaspard’s increased addiction to Audrey and the online world, and the interaction between Gaspard and his friends.
First, the strong social commentary on the negative affects of virtualization and Internet dependence in our lives takes on a physical reality in this movie. The increasing preference for virtual space as an escape, the mounting preference for virtual contact rather than real human contact, and the issues of Internet anonymity rear their ugly heads. Verbal and nonverbal communication is deteriorating as a skill set while virtual communication cheapens the human experience that thrives on tangible expressions of human emotion such as tone of voice, inflection, warmth, body contact, words, and eye contact.
Additionally, concerns over inhibition-less strangers enabled by anonymity on the Internet are given a strong, valid voice in the movie. In the past several years we have seen just how powerful anonymous activity can be from cyber bullying on Facebook and Myspace that results in real life suicide to trickery and deception used to lure unsuspecting chat room strangers into deadly real life encounters. We think it’s crazy, but when we find out that Audrey and her brother are working together to lure lovesick and lonely men into suicidal states or vulnerable situations in which they can be murdered, you can’t help but stop and think. Things like this actually happen and there are disturbed people like Audrey’s brother out there willing to adopt any means necessary to get their fill of violence or other less noble desires. Fortunately, when Gaspard is lured to Audrey’s house for the last time she finally gets the strength to stand up to her brother and Gaspard comes out alive. Unfortunately, it takes her death to make her brother forget about killing Gaspard so that he can make his escape. As if to make one last twist of the knife in the hearts of audience members hoping for Audrey to break free of the video game and the brainwashing, she tragically clings on to the hope of the final peace at the “Black Beach” as she throws herself off the building.
Lastly, while proper behavior of friends is not the main concern of the movie I believe that the relationships between Gaspard and his friends Yann and Ludo paint a portrait of the ideal traits for true friendship. Yann certainly provides a negative influence counter-acting Ludo’s positive characteristics. From encouraging infidelity with Audrey to using inappropriate language and always wanting the “smutty details,” Yann exemplifies an all around terrible influence.
As the good friend, Ludo attempted to keep Gaspard honest, encouraged integrity, and tried to be there for him during difficult times. He wanted what was best for his friend and reminded him of it when he seemed to forget, as he did when he reminded Gaspard that he did not even know Audrey, that he loved Marion very much, and that he was lucky to be committed to such a wonderful woman.
Black Heaven falls short of a stunning production, but what it lacks in star quality it makes up for in creativity and powerful, effective communication of issues regarding our increasingly virtual world and the role that friends and communication play in relationships. I would certainly recommend this movie to audiences over the appropriate age.