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This article was written By John Berra on 30 Nov 2015, and is filed under Reviews.

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About John Berra

John Berra is a lecturer in Film and Language Studies at Renmin University of China. He is the editor of the Directory of World Cinema: Japan (2010/12/15); co-editor of World Film Locations: Beijing (2012); and co-editor of World Film Locations: Shanghai (2014). His work has appeared in The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology (2011), Electric Shadows: A Century of Chinese Cinema (2014) and Ozu International: Essays on the Global Influences of a Japanese Auteur (2015).

Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (Philippines/Germany, 2014)

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Existing somewhere between gonzo exploitation and the type of visual art project that plays on loop as a video installation, Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore uses the archetypal narrative suggested by its title as the jumping off point for 70 minutes of invigorating formal experimentation on Manila’s mean streets. Shot in just five-days by multi-disciplinary artist Khavn (full name Khavn De La Cruz) in collaboration with famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle and conceived as a near-wordless tone poem, it’s an audacious riff on a clichéd tale with the director’s grab-bag of style choices fueled by an eclectic soundtrack which features songs by Filipino musicians, compositions by Berlin-based electronic band Stereo Total, plus pieces by the director himself. This freestyle approach entails that Ruined Heart oscillates from the melancholic to the wildly kinetic, meaning that peaks of audience attention will vary depending on individual preferences for mood, music, and motion.

The craziness kicks-off with the Criminal (Tadanobu Asano) rescuing the Whore (Nathalia Acevedo) from an over-eager client – both are residents of a district presided over by The Godfather (Vim Nadera) where crime runs rampant and the inhabitants have no qualms about indulging there impulses at a moments notice, no matter how destructive they might be. It’s love at first sight between the Criminal and the Whore, and he comforts her following a bizarre episode in which one of her clients chokes on a duck’s egg. Unfortunately, pure romance can never be allowed to flourish without opposition in such a seedy milieu, and the Criminal’s advances come to the attention of the Godfather, who regards the Whore as his pet prostitute. After matters come to a head at an erotic party, the Criminal and the Whore are forced to go on the run. Freedom from the underworld proves to be fleeting, however, with the tragic trajectory of the slender narrative being the only predictable aspect of a film that otherwise works overtime to be anything but.

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There’s a carnivalesque quality to Ruined Heart as Khavn celebrates squalor with characters engaging in explicit spurts of sex, violence, and outright debauchery, which suddenly speeds up or slows down depending on changes in the accompanying rhythm. Aside from making a paean to street life, Khavn is also making a statement about what constitutes cinema in 2015 with Jean-Luc Godard’s quote “All you need to make a movie is a girl and gun” taken as a conceptual cue. Some sections are shot in vibrant 35mm as Doyle’s camera explores filthily decedent sets painted in various shades of blue, creating roaming compositions that cry out to be seen on a big screen. However, other segments are shot on digital video and seem designed for cellphone consumption, with comparatively cramped images that evidence raw immediacy and grimy realism. Some of this footage is even captured by the actor’s themselves – the Criminal sports an arm cast that points to the physically hazardous nature of his lowlife profession, but becomes a means of attaching a GoPro video camera that records hectic chases through the slum’s alleyways. Khavn and Doyle may not reinvent cinema – they were probably having too much fun to be concerned with such lofty aims – but they certainly succeed in illustrating its possibilities across a range of formats and outlets.

Since his iconic work with Wong Kar-wai, professional vagabond Doyle has bounced around the globe in search of similarly challenging creative partnerships, coming close in his collaborations with Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, taking a chance on new talent like Chilian enfant terrible Sebastián Silva, and dabbling in the US independent sector by shooting for Gus Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch. However, he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Khavn whose ‘anything goes’ attitude allows the cinematographer a level of experimentation that he perhaps last enjoyed with Shinji Imaoka pinku musical Underwater Love (2011) which, like Ruined Heart, was a co-production with German financier Rapid Eye movies and featured a Stereo Total soundtrack. It would be understandable if the performances were lost in their stylistic playground, but Asano confidently trades on his indie cool, now at an age where his nonchalance has taken on an air of wistfulness that makes his intimate scenes with the radiant Acevedo all the more poignant.

Those who can handle more Khavn after this exhilarating, albeit occasionally exhausting, oddity will need to clear their viewing schedule – Ruined Heart is his first major international release, but he’s regarded as a pioneer of the digital film movement in the Philippines having already amassed 44 directorial credits across a range of features, shorts, and documentaries.

Related posts:

Connected (Hong Kong, 2008)
Rob-B-Hood (Hong Kong, 2006)
The Piano in a Factory (China, 2010)

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