Heartbeat Detector Review
By Chris Cabin
It seems that the old dictum of never building a house on an ancient Indian burial ground goes double, if not triple, for corporations. For those who consider Enron, Halliburton, and Boeing graveyards of crimes too devious to mention, Nicolas Klotz's Heartbeat Detector introduces SC Farb, a company so thoroughly soulless and gleefully-unaware of humanity that it has a psychiatrist on staff just to make sure no one with a healthy pulse gets in.
That psychiatrist goes by the name Simon Kessler (the reliable Mathieu Amalric) and make no mistake, he's a bigger lunatic than any of the well-groomed Gucci tards that find their way into his office. At a bar nearby, he asks the luminous Louisa (Laetitia Spigarelli) to play the piano naked for him. He later discards her over a piece of corporate mail. In between these moments of lucid confusion, he finds time to interview perspective employees and catch quickies with a blonde pants-suit named Isabelle (Delphine Chuillot). It's when Kessler is asked by his boss, the perfectly-named Karl Rose (a potently-glacial Jean-Pierre Kalfon), to begin looking at SC Farb's CEO Mathias Jüst (the astounding Michael Lonsdale, who played Amalric's father in Munich) that the cerebral pistons begin firing.
Jüst's past allows for so many instances of his decaying hold on reality that Kessler himself begins to get lost in them. An all-night rave that culminates in the psychiatrist hallucinating about Louisa and her voice as he passes first base with Isabelle stunningly invokes a growing moral black hole within Kessler that he only begins to question halfway into the process of diagnosing Jüst. Secrets emerge, including a father who worked with the Nazis, the tragic death of a young daughter, a love affair, and a musical quintet that went to spit.
The not-so-dirty secret being whispered in between Elisabeth Perceval's sublime dialogue and the haunting score by folk-improvisers Syd Matters is that any capitalist structure has the blood of historical crimes, both at home and abroad, on its shoes. Jüst goes so far as to try to commit suicide but awakens with enough foresight to hand over proof of the Third Reich's handshakes with SC Farb and one name: Arie Neumann, the missing member of the Farb Quintet. As played with elusive poetics by Lou Castel, Neumann leads Kessler through the last little door and into hallucinations about the Nazis and Farb's greatest hits, moments of visual wonder that Fellini would have commended.
Plenty of resemblances have been culled forth from the critical collective. A gallic Michael Clayton? Michael Mann gone arthouse? I'm especially fond of Scott Foundas' likening it to early Godard. All have points but there's something unmistakably ferocious about the way Klotz's film stalks around the ashes left by commerce that distances it from easy comparison. A sense of cruelty is pervasive, yet the ending evokes hope and humanity without being sentimental, boosted by a sturdy-yet-pulsating aesthetic that evokes all of our culture's indifference towards corporate crime. With that in mind, Klotz's message is ultimately simple: too much gravedancing doesn't go unnoticed.
Aka La Question humaine.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 12th September 2007
Distributed by: New Yorker
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 6
Cast & Crew
Producer: Sophie Dulac, Michel Zana
Screenwriter: Elisabeth Perceval