One from the Heart ★★★★½

I'm tempted to review this movie with nothing but a gasp of "aaahh" as my mouth hangs agape and my eyes bulge. Or maybe I could just drop a bunch of adjectives—"invigorating! dazzling! overwhelming!"—that convey my awe but tell you nothing about the movie. Watching Coppola's post-Apocalypse so-called failure was that much of a knocked-upon-my-ass experience. I'm a sap for simple love stories, and this is such a simple one; a "break up, sleep around, reunite" story, and I can't imagine it any other way. The plot had to be this clean and slender because the style possesses such dizzying, Donen-esque brio—all crane shots and bold colors—while the emotions are like boulders laid upon the viewer's chest.

All of this is duly complemented and amplified by Tom Waits' soundtrack, which is jazzy, bittersweet, old-fashioned. I've never before seen music deployed quite like this: with distinct numbers, like those in a traditional screen musical, but sung by non-diegetic voices (those of Waits and Crystal Gayle) as a counterpoint to the onscreen action. This strategy makes for lush, even maximalist sonic textures that ease in and out of the film, compounding the glitzy artifice of Dean Tavoularis's sound stage Las Vegas. One from the Heart is enamored with how fake and beautiful movies can be; how gloriously fake and impossibly beautiful this movie itself actually is.

The camera's aroused by the sprawling sets, the ubiquitous glint of neon, and the figures cut by its star quartet (Garr, Forrest, Kinski, Julia). The four of them yearn, then pair off, dance, and satisfy those yearnings. Everyone is thoroughly eroticized as part of someone else's dream. These actors perform against a mise-en-scène that's heightened to a euphoric degree, and within this framework their own minuscule gestures can register with a meteor-like impact. Teri Garr's especially disarming in this context, with that fragile maneuver of hers where a smile breaks into tears or vice versa. It crushes me every time.

The film is calibrated to crush me, in fact, with all of its pieces functioning in harmony, building these bits of kitchen sink drama into a full-blown spectacle. The characters' ambivalence about their domestic status quo, seemingly a very modest subject matter, transforms onscreen into an extravaganza of light and song that sweats ambition. (Blues, reds, golds: Coppola and Vittorio Storaro have arranged an intoxicating palette.) I swoon for One from the Heart, this very big movie in orbit around a set of very small events, and the sweet sensory overload it provides.

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