1 October 2010 | rooprect
I want to punch the person who wrote the DVD packaging
My first reaction to this film: It sucks beans.
But I gave it a lot of thought afterwards, and now the morning after, I think it is a very compelling picture worthy of a 2nd watch.
First I'll tell you why I initially hated it, maybe sparing you the misery. Everything about this film is extremely deceptive, setting up emotional expectations that are never fulfilled. The USA title "Autumn Hearts: A New Beginning" is way off the mark, and the DVD packaging is awful, describing it as "a tender love story of redemption, healing and reconciliation." HUH?? Did the marketing department even bother to watch the movie? If you watch this movie expecting a sentimental tear-jerker or a "tender love story", you'll find yourself hurling popcorn at the screen in disgust. It is none of those things, despite the sweeping, lush cinematography and Hallmark-greeting-card setting (complete with melodramatic musical score that does its best to yank our emotions to the surface). Whether deliberate or not, the film is very misleading in that respect.
If not a cryfest, what do you get instead? You get a marvellous, philosophical question that goes to the root of what we are as human beings. What is our job on this planet, and what are our limits of duty vs. survival? The movie investigates four major characters struggling with the same question, each taking a markedly different approach. Four peoples' lives have been twisted out of shape by the injustice of humanity. How do they react? One (Gabriel Byrne) suppresses the trauma under a veneer of British civility & reticence*. Another (Max von Sydow) has had the memories forcibly erased by chemicals and exectroshock experiments, though he still retains an inexplicable connection. A third character (Susan Sarandon) obsessively collects her memories, appointing herself as a sort of librarian of human injustice and in so doing, starts to lose her mind. And a fourth character (Christopher Plummer) is a secondary victim, suffering by association and trying his best to move ahead while realizing the impossibility of that notion.
The dynamic is incredibly well played. There is no clearcut answer, and each character plays against the others hoping to find the route to peace. I didn't find this to be an emotional film but instead a very intellectual puzzle. The original title "Emotional Arithmetic", while not as poetic or appealing as "Autumn Hearts", is definitely more appropriate if you choose to view the film as I described it. It is an almost scientific approach to the manipulation of emotions, bringing us back to the main question: is our job to hold on to the past, like living history books, toruted & martyred for the sake of teaching future generations? Or is our job to bury the ugly face of past injustice and focus on moving forward ourselves? However way you choose, the answer is represented by one (or more) of the four characters.
This film is a slow-paced philosophical soul teaser wrapped up in a bright-coloured (emotional) package. There's definitely a lot going on, much like a Wim Wenders film ("Lisbon Story", "Paris Texas") or a Hirokazu Koreeda film ("Maborosi", "After Life") though not nearly that slow. Another film I might compare it to is "The Shipping News" by Lasse Hallström but that comparison is mainly due to the director's way of using landscape & nature to create a mood. One thing about this film that no one will deny is that the setting (Quebec in the early Autumn) is about as beautiful & dreamy as any place on Earth.
*Yes, I know Gabriel Byrne is Irish, not British!