HEAVEN IN HELL. This is not a film [REVIEW]
The worst thing about Heaven in Hell is probably that the creators throw feminist cinema slogans around left and right, while their film, instead of supporting women, only reinforces negative stereotypes and sells unrealistic, harmful fairy tales about male-female relationships.
Of course, Heaven in Hell is weak. Who expected anything different? Tomasz Mandes, after finishing the adaptation of Blanka Lipińska’s books, continues to create erotic cinema – this time solo, without co-director Barbara Białowąs from 365 Days. He proudly says that Heaven in Hell is a more ambitious project than the adventures of Laura and Massimo, and even that he doesn’t want viewers to associate these productions because the newer film is a completely different quality. However, that’s nonsense. Heaven in Hell is exactly the same product as 365 Days – a long music video and a show of pretty slides with a pretextual plot. As wiser people than me have noticed – it’s even hard to treat these productions as films and evaluate them by the same criteria. Therefore, this review won’t be a typical one because there’s not much to review here. I can only share with you the stream of my tormented consciousness.
The Creators' Ego
The lack of artistic quality in the discussed title doesn’t stop Mandes from making bombastic and untrue statements, such as Heaven in Hell being the first Polish film with international distribution, and thanks to it and other works directed by Tomasz, the big world had a chance to find out that there is something like Polish cinematography at all. If Mr. Mandes attributes his joyful filmmaking to patriotism, he could at least ask Poles, whether they agree to be represented by productions like 365 Days or Heaven in Hell. The director may not know English well enough to understand that the overwhelming interest in the Laura and Massimo trilogy on the international stage was overwhelmingly negative and mocking. Perhaps he is also unaware of phenomena like hate-watching, watching something for laughs; maybe no one informed him that the Razzies are not an award he should aspire to.
Heaven in Hell, as expected, is full of kitsch and TVN-style aesthetics typical of Polish romantic productions (e.g., the unrealistic wealth of the main character – supposedly living by the sea, but her workplace is already Warsaw; living alone, but having a huge designer house). The love between Olga and Max must be taken on faith because, from the events presented, it only seems that after a few weeks of sex and silent, long glances, they decided on a shared future. Perhaps the worst part is that the creators throw feminist cinema slogans around left and right, while their film, instead of supporting women, only reinforces negative stereotypes and sells unrealistic, harmful fairy tales about male-female relationships.
We don’t want such movies about women Heaven in Hell depicts a man as the highest aspiration and goal of a woman’s life, more important than her own family. It is also another film where another woman is the main enemy of the woman. Heaven in Hell is particularly disgusting in this regard because a mother and daughter (played by Kasia Sawczuk) compete for the same guy. The film asks us to sympathize with the main character, who first complains incessantly about her daughter not visiting, and then, when the said daughter finally visits, she criticizes her for not “announcing” herself. Boczarska’s character also has no problem with her partner sleeping with her daughter earlier; she doesn’t see it as a potential problem in family relationships. Olga is empty, infantile, easily swayed by emotions, prioritizing desire and fleeting infatuation over relationships with her closest people. It’s also hard to say what attracts her to Max beyond appearance: essentially, it’s the vision of a woman that an average frustrated person from an online community might create, but it appears in a film supposedly dedicated to women.
Heaven in Hell is full of misogyny and prejudice, especially towards young women – the twenty-something daughter of the main character is portrayed in a very negative light, as a spoiled and party-focused girl actively trying to ruin her mother’s life. However, as we later find out, the main character failed her daughter on all fronts, and she has every right to be angry. After years of mutual dislike, one hysterical conversation from Trudne sprawy is enough to make everything between them go back to normal. Why, in a film that would like to show that a relationship between a woman in her forties and a twenty-year-old is possible, is there so much venom towards young girls? Why can’t Max choose the older Olga without breaking hearts and humiliating the younger Maja? Why does Olga choose such a man, playing on multiple fronts, insincere, involved in strange actions like Max, and why should we consider this choice a happy ending? Why, in making a film for one group of women (mature, slightly bored, dreaming of an adventure with a handsome guy), do we have to attack another group of women who are the opposite of the first? I have the impression that in Heaven in Hell, I’m watching someone’s very ugly, toxic, and indicative of a lack of character fantasy; a fantasy where it’s more about how much other women envy him and how much they suffer because of it… I would really like female films not to fuel envy and rivalry between representatives of the same gender. It’s unnecessary, it’s outdated, we shouldn’t fall for it anymore.
I have a high tolerance for nonsense in romances and romantic comedies. These are adaptations of popular relationship-erotic fantasies and, as such, don’t have to be “correct.” Men can watch Predator and fantasize about being Arnold – for many women, similar stories about love fulfill a similar function (fantasy), and that’s perfectly fine. I’m the last person who will deny women the right to a bit of escapism. As I wrote at the beginning: it’s hard to judge Heaven in Hell by categories like “normal” films because it’s inherently something else – erotic fantasy brought to the screen. The problem is that Heaven in Hell doesn’t fulfill its purpose; it doesn’t work as a fantasy because it’s simply not “captivating” enough.
It’s a stretched to the limits slice-of-life with unconvincing adventures of a mature woman after experiences, not an exciting erotic film. The object of the main character’s sighs is bland and not expressive, representing nothing except a well-built physique. The key to a romance is to write the lover’s character well, to embody through him some female longing, and choose an actor who will bring this dream to life. A pretty face is not enough for women to want to return to the movie and dream about meeting a similar man. Max is a person about whom I can’t say absolutely anything. He’s simply flat, I don’t understand the fascination of the main character, there would be more sense in her romance with Janusz Chabior’s character (the best character in the entire film and the only fully successful element of the whole). Why would a beautiful, successful, and experienced lawyer lose her head for a random guy met in the courtroom? The film doesn’t even make an effort to have one scene that would make us feel her fascination, understand what this relationship gives her, what gap in her life it fills. The lovers don’t talk to each other; dialogues in this film exist only to extend its duration to full length. Calling Simon Sussina wooden is an insult to wood because the latter can at least be brightened and ignited with a little work. But maybe it’s just my impression? Maybe women will love Max? Time will tell; I’m writing this text before the official premiere.
Viewers who go to the cinema primarily for spicy scenes will also be disappointed. There are only a few bed sequences here, lost in the depths of too long footage, and almost all (except the first and best one, with Boczarska contemplating sex with Sussina in her office during masturbation) are poorly directed and show nothing special. They rather resemble the infamous “perfume ad shots” we know from the Grey trilogy. In terms of sexiness, Heaven in Hell regresses compared to 365 Days, where – whatever you say about this movie – at least the bed scenes were successful. However, in the discussed production, there was clearly no idea for them. But perhaps even the most wonderful erotic imagination of the creators would not be able to overcome the pseudo-documentary acting and zero charisma of Simon Sussina, as well as the total lack of chemistry between him and Boczarska; which, despite her efforts, doesn’t allow us to believe in the passion between the main characters. Really – to watch people have sex, other films are used. And their creators at least realize that the plot is purely accidental in such productions and don’t attach any lame ideology to everything.