Just “another love story between a criminal and a whore” – so subtitles maverick Filipino film director Khavn his latest effort, Ruined Heart (Pusong Wasak: Isa na namang kwento ng pag-ibig sa pagitan ng kriminal at puta), though like much in the film you could read quite a lot more intro those few words than their subtext suggests. Light on conventional narrative and almost dialogue free, Ruined Heart is the deconstruction of the classic B-Movie. We have our noble, broken hearted outlaw and our damaged princess in need of rescue but what we’re denied is the sense of moral righteousness that generally pervades in a B-Movie and particularly in a film noir. The picture Kavn paints is of a hellish world where violence reigns and love will always be defeated.
There’s little point trying to tease out the plot bar the above ideas. What we are presented with at the beginning of the film is our dramatis personae – archetypes of this modern myth: The Lover (Elena Kazan), The Criminal (Tadanobu Asano), The Friend (Andre Puertollano), The Whore (Nathalia Acevedo), and The Pianist (played by Khavn himself), each profiled against a butterfly patterned curtain neatly echoing Branded to Kill. Our hero, the Criminal, bonds with the Whore after offing one of her Johns, but their love is not to last after the Criminal decides to help The Friend rescue his Lover from the Godfather.
While all of this is going on we’re also treated to a far more surreal scene where the pianist reads out a street poem consisting of the repeated phrase “I am the poem of the world” before taking part in a bizarre ritual where he appears to resurrect the Godfather (Vim Nadera) who is now introduced for the first time. Is the pianist the god of this strangely operatic landscape, presiding over this violent world of song? For someone with such an elaborate introduction he makes relatively little impact thereafter. Is this hell, are we all dead already or merely doomed to relive these old stories over and over again to the point where names and language no longer have currency?
That said, there is something genuine to be found here in this otherwise cold landscape. The Criminal and The Whore find love against the odds though their romance is soon frustrated by the harshness of their world. They have fleeting moments of joy where they drink and dance and make music of all kinds. However, something is coming for them and however hard you try to escape there are things you cannot outrun.
Playing out more like an avant-garde opera than a conventional film, Ruined Heart offers little in the way of concrete explanations. Dripping with sometimes impenetrable symbolism the film paints an eerie, dream-like vision that often proves impossible to decode and like all the best poems, there are a hundred different ways to read it.
The score itself is an eclectic assault of catchy ’60s inflected broken heart ballads and electro pop, often repeating the same song in different arrangements (an apt stylistic choice given the nature of the film). Composed by a diverse collection of artists including French/German outfit Stereo Total who contributed to Third Window Films’ previous release pink musical Underwater Love, and Bing Austria & the Flippin’ Soul Stompers who provide the film’s catchy theme song, the musical element becomes the driving force of the film.
Shot with a youthful yet melancholy verve by Christopher Doyle, Ruined Heart is a high energy experience that proves difficult to digest, particularly on a first viewing. However, its extremely rich layers of symbolism and subversion of common archetypes lend it a mystifying and intriguing atmosphere that continues to fascinate long after the credits roll. More felt and experienced than understood, Ruined Heart may prove a difficult sell for some but comes bearing gifts for those that long to find them.
Ruined Heart is available on blu-ray in the UK now from Third Window films in a limited edition package which also includes a soundtrack CD (highly recommended for the CD alone). The blu-ray disc also includes Khavn’s short film with the same title and a similar theme (though filmed in an entirely different style and with a different cast).
First saw the film a couple of months ago and still can’t get this song out of my head.
Trailer for the film