Map of the Human Heart
1993, R, 109 min. Directed by Vincent Ward. Starring Jason Scott Lee, Anne Parillaud, Patrick Bergin, John Cusack, Jeanne Moreau.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 14, 1993
Breathtaking in both its narrative scope and its cinematography, Map of the Human Heart is an epic love story between two half-breeds: Avik, an Eskimo and Albertine, whose father was an Native American. The film begins in 1930, when young Avik first comes into contact with Walter Russell (Bergin), a cartographer mapping the Arctic. Leaving to return to Canada, Russell takes his new Eskimo friend along with him -- the boy has come into contact not only with white men but also with the white men's disease, tuberculosis, and so ends up in a Montreal hospital, where he meets Albertine. Together they pass the days in the hospital, eventually becoming best friends. From here the film jumps to 1939, as an adult Avik (Jason Scott Lee) returns to his Arctic home. Having been gone for such a long period of time, he has forgotten his native tongue, and is openly ridiculed for being unable to hunt and fish successfully like the other men of the village. One day Walter returns, bringing news of the war in Europe. Avik, an outcast in his own home, fairly jumps at the chance to enlist in the British air force, and while there, he is reunited with Albertine (Parillaud). Director Ward (The Navigator) uses the hoary, clichéd wraparound device of having an elderly Avik relate his life story to a young cartographer (Cusack, in another of his brilliant cameos), and, amazingly, it works. Everything is this film works, actually, from Eduardo Serra's breathtaking cinematography to Lee and Parillaud's excellent turns as the not-quite-doomed lovers. Caught up in the horrors of a world war, Avik is sent on a bombing run over Dresden, Germany, in what may be one of the most harrowing war sequences ever filmed, but Ward likewise has a knack for showing us the lyrical, spirited arena of True Love -- a scene where the two make love atop a floating barrage balloon is nothing short of perfect. Spanning three decades, Map of the Human Heart is one of those rare films that illuminates a single human story, and does it so well that you're hardly aware you're watching a movie.