July 6, 2006
Seventh Heaven, 1997
A delicately rendered, slice-of-life relational drama played out as psychological mystery, Seventh Heaven incisively opens to an unfocused shot of Mathilde (Sandrine Kiberlain) standing near the glass doors of a department store until her visage gradually comes into focus - and with it - her abstracted gaze as she compulsively steals a scale model car from a nearby toy bin. This interrelated shift in balance - between space and object, foreground and background, the visible and invisible - inevitably foreshadows the emotional dynamics between Mathilde and her husband Nico (Vincent Lindon) as well. Having (seemingly) coped with the death of her father at a young age, Mathilde had been leading a fairly mundane life of privilege, leisure, and contented - if sexually unfulfilled - marriage, until succumbing to a recent compulsion for toy theft and a spate of inexplicable fainting spells - a psychological break that may be tied to the traumatic anniversary of her father's death. Pursued by an intriguing and mysterious psychoanalyst (François Berléand) who takes interest in her case after finding her detained in the security office of a department store for shoplifting, she immediately connects with the perceptive stranger who initiates a conversation, not only to offer redecorating advice in order to realign the feng shui of the couple's apartment to be more conducive for romance, but also to probe the circumstances behind her father's death in the hypothesis that a reconciliation with her suppressed past will permanently silence her self-destructive compulsion. But as Mathilde gradually emerges from the darkness of her psychological captivity with renewed confidence and passion for life, Nico begins to succumb to jealous obsession and self-doubt over his wife's profound transformation. Eschewing deeply embedded psychoanalysis for facile explications of Mathilde's compulsion, Jacquot presents an intelligent and compelling argument for psychotherapy, not as a panacea for modern relationships, but as a facilitator for communication and objective arbiter of the power dynamics intrinsic in the inevitable evolution of every romantic relationship. In this respect, perhaps the most compelling sequence in the film is in the sound of the couple's continued conversation against the black screen of rolling end credits - an evocation of fragile intimacy and reconciliation through the continuation of mundane ritual within the implicit renewal of exposed vulnerability, unconditional acceptance, and articulated desire.