We all live by rules. Whether they are personal choices to undertake or
those put upon us by work or family, we live by them. But sometimes
those rules can destroy us.
Nathan Silver's fifth feature, Stinking Heaven,
takes place in suburban New Jersey, circa 1990. Lucy (Deragh Campbell)
and Jim (Keith Poulson) are a young married couple who have structured
their home as a community for sober living, themselves addicts on the
mend. We enter the home amidst a celebration: the wedding of Betty
(Eleonore Hendricks) and Kevin (Henri Douvry), surely a bright new
beacon in this house for the healing power of love. But when Betty's old
flame Ann (Hannah Gross) shows up, it sends the house into a tumult not
everyone will come out of unscathed.
Amidst affairs, relapses
and accusations aplenty Campbell's Lucy -- measured, impassive -- and
Gross' Ann -- wild-eyed, a loner, aggressive -- emerge as bookends to
the warring lives that unravel on screen. As an instigator, Ann
certainly pushes buttons, sending some residents reeling from the house.
But for someone like Lucy, who can barely get a word in edgewise, whose
husband grows more and more distant from her by the day, Ann offers
hope. Ann offers escape.
What Silver and his mesmerizing
ensemble address here is how friction, how self-hatred and fear must be
rung through to get to the healing. As the title suggests living in a
house of addicts when one is an addict themselves is no cake walk. To
survive, the on-the-mend patchwork family perform sing-a-longs, make
fermented tea, and videotape reenactments of their darkest moments,
hoping that role playing and reliving will exorcise the demons they hold
so dear. For some, living in this ruptured harmony is the key to their
healing; for others, being alone may be a better choice. No one
is beyond saving, but not everyone seeks to be saved either.
and cinematographer Adam Ginsberg capture all this with professional
broadcast video cameras that date back to the 70s. The sense derived
from this aesthetic choice results less in the film feeling like a relic from a
bygone era, and of something immediate, intimate and vital. The video
cameras act as an imprint of psychosis worn down by staving off madness,
destruction and death. Full of life in somersault, the images captured
are scratchy and fuzzy, the analog equivalent of rust and blood; of a
stained heart beating. Like the people they capture, they are not
perfect, but they are alive.
So while the story is fiction,
this approach lends the film something far more in common with
documentary work, namely that of Canadian documentarian Allan
King and his so-called actuality dramas like Warrendale
and Come On Children
which focus on communities in isolation. As a filmmaker Silver is in
pursuit of actuality through the play-guise of fiction. In this way Stinking Heaven
boasts Silver's usual adventurous and raw spirit. Like previous works Soft In The Head
and Uncertain Terms
the director seeks truth of the moment. His penchant for deriving
awkwardness through dinner scenes remains wonderfully intact here, too:
The roving camera moving across the room, not afraid of negative space,
eventually finding hands and faces; glimmers of such truths. Sometimes
the results are very funny. Sometimes they are heartbreaking, often ugly, and
Brimming with a putrid effervescence and an ensemble cast willing to dig deep into the filth of life, Stinking Heaven
further confirms Silver's talent as a great conductor of chaos.Review originally published in slightly different form during the International Film Festival Rotterdam in January 2015. Stinking Heaven opens in New York on December 9, Chicago on December 11 and Los Angeles on December 18. It will also be available on iTunes and Fandor December 9.
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