Sunday, 3 July 2011


“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”   James Earl Jones

Yesterday was a cold winter’s day with wind and rain. In the gray gloom of the afternoon we sat down in the warmth of our home and as we hadn’t had any lunch, we popped some corn and armed with bowls of its fragrant floccules we watched a movie. This was a movie that I had seen in a cinema when I was living in Holland when it had first come out and I remembered it as good one. When I saw it at our DVD shop I got it, as I was keen to watch it again. It is the 1993 Vincent Ward film, “Map of the Human Heart”, an Australian, Canadian, French and UK co-production. This is an ambitious film and deals with a number of significant themes, however, at the heart of the plot is a tender love story that begins in childhood and continues until the characters’ maturity.

In the 1930s an Eskimo “half-breed” named Avik lives with his only surviving relative, an elderly grandmother in the north of Canada. He encounters a map-maker, Walter, who becomes a father figure for him. As Avik learns to speak English by helping Walter with his surveying, it becomes apparent that he has contracted the “white man’s disease”, tuberculosis. Walter takes the boy with him back to Montreal where he leaves him to be treated at a sanatorium. Avik meets a fellow child-patient there, the “half-breed” French Canadian girl named Albertine. Their friendship blossoms and together they get into all sorts of mischief annoying the strict Catholic Sister Banville. Albertine is cured and departs from the sanatorium leaving Avik heartbroken. When he too is cured, he returns to his own people and his grandmother. His return is at an unfortunate time when there is dearth of game, for which he is blamed as he has now been contaminated by the “white man’s ways”. Now a young man, he teams up with Walter on a return expedition and signs up for the war. He’s assigned to a bomber group and has good luck in bombing flights over Germany. Near the end of his service time, he chances to run into Albertine again, who is working in bomber command, and the two rekindle their friendship, which has turned into something more, for Avik, at least. Unfortunately, all sorts of misfortune dogs their relationship and part of it relates to Albertine’s desire to pass herself off as a “pure blood” white woman.

Both Jason Scott Lee and Robert Joamie who play the older and younger Avik do a great job with their roles and are quite convincing as the Inuit boy who grows into a troubled “white man’s” manhood. Anne Parillaud and Annie Galipeau who are cast as the older and younger Albertine do equally well, although their roles are not as meaty as Avik’s. Patrick Bergin cuts a dashing figure as Walter until the viewer’s sympathies are alienated by his character’s development and changing behaviour. A young John Cusack as a mapmaker makes a cameo appearance and the iconic Jeanne Moreau is a convincing Sister Banville and has some memorable one-liners (“And this is Hell, where all the Protestants are!”). Ben Mendelssohn, the Australian actor, has a good supporting role.

The direction is good, although one could (in a mischievous and carping mood) complain that Ward has used every cliché in the book and that he favours melodrama and coincidence to move his story along. The movie is poignant and has a good story, which overcomes most of its faults. It is a memorable film and the tender-hearted viewer may find it quite sad and heart-wrenching, while greatly involving and engaging. The jaded cynic will be on the lookout for faults and will do much to criticise the film on every count. Vincent Ward invested his pay off for his work on “Alien” (1992) to finance this film, which says something about his commitment to it and his belief in its worth.

The music by Gabriel Yared is appropriate and underlines the drama in the film in a supportive and apt way. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is beautiful and he does much with the lonely frozen expanses of the arctic, the fiery bombing of Dresden, the flying sequences and the panoramic views of countryside. Visually, this is a greatly stimulating film and there are many scenes in it that are quite memorable and haunting. The ending of the film is quite heart-rending and the camera work is especially good.

We saw the movie on DVD and it ran for 109 minutes, although the original film was much longer than this (4-5 hours long, I believe, perhaps one could hope that will be released as mini-series). It would be good to have watched a director’s cut as I am sure some of the abruptness of some scenes would be eliminated and some subplots would have been allowed more time to develop into stronger supporting frameworks for the main story. The sweeping epic of the story would have been allowed to flourish even more and the character development would not have been as forced.

The themes of the film relate to family, personal identity love, death, and man’s inhumanity to man. Throw in some prejudice, search for one’s place in the world and the despoliation of our environment and you have a very full bag for the 109 minutes of the film. One could classify this movie as a romantic drama, but it had more depth than a typical “chick flick” and one that most men would enjoy equally well. We found it a tough film to watch as it was intense and generated some strong emotions, however, it was also a good film, one that we would recommend to our friends (but maybe not to some of our acquaintances).


  1. This sounds like the sort of movie I would like to watch Nic!!!! Thanks for the recomendation!!!!

  2. This is a great movie! I have seen it twice and enjoyed it both times.
    Good review!