SEVENTH HEAVEN

Directed and written by Benoit Jacquot

With Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon

Distributed by Zeitgeist Films

***


Judging from the handful of Benoit Jacquot's films that I've seen, his world is a deeply mysterious one. Jacquot tends to only show us the surfaces of this world, but he shows just enough to hint at great psychological depths. The films are intimate with this world, but they don't take this intimacy for granted or make it easy to understand. Somehow, they have a knack for turning the quotidian into an adventure, full of mystery and danger at every corner. A SINGLE GIRL manages to generate an incredible amount of suspense out of the most boring, everyday activities. This sense of mystery comes to the fore in SEVENTH HEAVEN.

A SINGLE GIRL turned out to be Jacquot's North American breakthrough. It was followed by a retrospective at last year's Toronto Film Festival, which unfortunately hasn't toured. According to the catalog, Jacquot isn't exactly a household name anywhere, not even in his native France. In fact, they couldn't even turn up prints (not even unsubtitled ones) of three of his films. Fortunately, he's been rather prolific lately, and American distributors have finally caught on to his work. His recent Mishima adaptation, THE SCHOOL OF FLESH, just played at Cannes, and it will be the third Jacquot film released in the U.S. this year.

The marriage of Mathilde (Sandrine Kiberlain) and Nico (Vincent Lindon) is going nowhere. Nico is incapable of bringing her to orgasm, and she's recently been plagued by fainting spells and compulsive shoplifting. On several occasions, she keeps running into a man, who comes to her aid when she faints after getting busted for shoplifting in a toy store. She begins hypnotherapy with the mysterious, slightly creepy man, who turns out to be a psychoanalyst and feng shui devotee. (This man may be a projection of her imagination.) His suggestions help her have an orgasm for the first time in her life. However, just as her mood starts to improve, Nico's mood begins to deteriorate.

Jacquot's eye for female beauty is quite evident, and A SINGLE GIRL obviously would've been much different if it focused on a middle-aged woman rather than a beautiful young girl. However, he may ogle these women, but he doesn't reduce them to decorative objects. Without making them into perfect beings, he shows the ways in which they're stronger and more centered than the men around them. He also has a sympathetic eye for what women have to put up with a male-dominated world. SEVENTH HEAVEN is, among other things, a scathing portrait of the way men feel threatened by strong, well-adjusted women, although it doesn't demonize Nico.

SEVENTH HEAVEN only falters when it comes to finding a solution to its protagonists' problems. The ending comes across as a bit of non sequitur, defying expectations set up in the first half and reinforced by the film's parallel structure, with its first half concentrating on Mathilde and second half concentrating on Nico. Ultimately, it suggests that all marriages have a power dynamic of their own, one that can't easily be understood by outsiders. With a more satisfying ending, the film might be stronger - its refusal to explain is both its biggest strength and biggest weakness. It's a tale suffused with a private symbolism and a character study in which the characters remain more than a little inscrutable.