Obsessive love of the most terrifying kind is the subject of A FLAME IN MY HEART, a chilly offering from Alain Tanner, the Swiss director of JONAH--WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000 (1976) and THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD (1974). Myriam Mezieres, whose screenplay was adapted by Tanner, stars as
Mercedes, a Parisian actress who, as the film opens, is attempting to break off with Johnny (Aziz Kabouche), her Arab lover. He cannot accept this, however, and dogs her continually. One day on the Metro she picks up the journalist Pierre (Benoit Regent), and falls desperately in love with him
after a single tryst. Luckily for Mercedes, he's receptive to her sudden adoration; unluckily for both, he soon finds it necessary to leave town on business. This precipitates a major breakdown for clinging-vine Mercedes, who walks out on the play she's been rehearsing and holes up in Pierre's
flat, where she spends her days hanging around nude, watching TV, masturbating, and living on cereal. He returns to find his place in a shambles, the phone cut off, and the besotted actress in an irrational and near-infantile state. After Mercedes finds employment in a sex establishment,
performing a striptease for the delectation of an audience of needy men, the unbelievably forbearing Pierre agrees to take her with him to Cairo, where he is to work on an assignment. They make love on the banks of the Nile, after which she disappears. She is last seen sitting in a rubble-heap,
completely out of her mind and staring at some poor children who are playing near her.
A FLAME IN MY HEART was shot in 16 millimeter black and white, then blown up to 35 millimeter for the big screen, lending the film a grainy, unappetizing look that Tanner evidently thought appropriate for this most unromantic of love stories. The tone of the film is similarly alienating: the
director seems completely detached, observing his heroine's torturous peregrinations like some half-interested, pitiless God. At the same time, there is an undeniable sureness in his handling of the scenes of rough sex between Mercedes and Johnny, and especially in the long, bravura sequence
showing Mercedes' subway seduction of Pierre, largely a matter of come-hither-and-be-quick-about-it facial expression. The editing is masterfully smooth and watchful.
Although the film depicts extremes of degradation and mania that compare with the obsessive loves in such diverse European films as LAST TANGO IN PARIS; THE STORY OF ADELE H.; THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE; and BETTY BLUE (American films, with the garish exceptions of FATAL ATTRACTION and 9 1/2
WEEKS, customarily veer away from the serious treatment of the topic), Mercedes' descent into madness seems too predictable, in part because we've seen it before in the films just named. No explanation is given for the character's apparent need to attach herself to some man, and the film begins to
play like a sick comedy, with Mezieres happily acting out every cliche of lovelorn womanhood imaginable. Mezieres--resembling, with her ravaged, libidinous face, a down-at-the-mouth Rita Moreno--gets to run the gamut of obsessive nuttiness; abased in scene after scene, she weeps great black
streams of mascara, munches mountains of breakfast snacks, wanders forlornly along a highway carrying her shoes (bare feet being de rigeur in such amours fou), and even, at one point, attacks Pierre with a huge kitchen knife. After a while one watches just to see what behavioral atrocity will
follow next, while wondering just how much of this was intended to be comic. In particular, Mezieres' extended sex dance with a stuffed gorilla could go down in movie history as a classically bad moment (though it's still not a patch on Dietrich's original simian sarabande in BLONDE VENUS). What
could Tanner have intended by this scene? Or does it represent simply another excuse for Mezieres to show off her trim figure?
Clearly, A FLAME IN MY HEART is Mezieres' film in more ways than one, but Kabouche is convincingly intense, bestial, and sexy as Johnny, and has the best-observed scene in the film when Johnny destroys the clothes he gave to Mercedes, while she looks on. Regent is amusingly square as the
thickheaded, solemn Pierre, whose conversation with Mercedes about the relative merits of journalism is so deadeningly high-minded it's almost a comic high point. (Nudity, sexual situations, violence, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1987
- Rating: NR
- Review: Obsessive love of the most terrifying kind is the subject of A FLAME IN MY HEART, a chilly offering from Alain Tanner, the Swiss director of JONAH--WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000 (1976) and THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD (1974). Myriam Mezieres, whose screenplay… (more)