Map of the Human Heart

(Vincent Ward, UK/Australia/France/Canada, 1993)


The films of New Zealand director Vincent Ward (such as The Navigator, 1988) have always aspired to a mythic realm, with grand themes of apocalypse and destiny, and archetypal symbolism.

Map of the Human Heart, a grandly mounted international co-production, is certainly his most self-consciously mythic canvas – and in case we miss this intention, the film is stuffed with every showy, would-be poetic device in contemporary art cinema.

Ward displays an avid anthropological interest in tribes such as the Eskimos who hunt and play in this story, but finally, like Wim Wenders, he's more interested in those special heroes and heroines who elevate themselves above the giggling herd.

Thus the film (co-scripted by playwright Louis Nowra) quickly centres on the 'holy boy' Avik (Jason Scott Lee) and his life-long, trans-continental obsession with another half-breed, Albertine (Anne Parillaud).

The sexual logic of this pseudo-myth is relentlessly binary: men embody rationality and violence, women are fickle creatures of the heart. And it develops a shocking Oedipus complex, too, as Avik does battle with his sinister father figure Walter (Patrick Bergin) over possession of the flighty Albertine.

Even actual historic events in the story – such as the bombing of Dresden – are reduced to mere moves in this claustrophobic power game. It is a pretentious, airy film that never takes root in any reality.

© Adrian Martin November 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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