Two bourgeois Swedish couples find a dinner-party discussion about adultery leads to serious repercussions in Danish helmer Simon Staho's "Heaven's Heart."

Two bourgeois Swedish couples find a dinner-party discussion about adultery leads to serious repercussions in Danish helmer Simon Staho’s “Heaven’s Heart.” Intense four-hander with an all-star cast plays like an update of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage,” laced with Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” and a soupcon of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Raw emotion, fearless perfs and stylized cinematography, with tightly framed closeups of the characters talking directly to the audience, mark pic as prime fest fare that could attract niche arthouse and broadcast play. Pic opened in Sweden on Feb. 29.

At their divorce hearing, Lars (Mikael Persbrandt) and Susanna (Lena Endre) sit, somewhat shell-shocked, in front of an offscreen judge (Ingemar Carlehed). Yarn then flashes back nine months, as the couple welcomes their married friends Ulf (Jakob Eklund) and Ann (Maria Lundqvist) to their home for dinner.

As the women prepare the meal, the men discuss their sex lives. Neither has been unfaithful to his wife in nearly 20 years of marriage; Ulf admits to thinking about it, while Lars denies ever having entertained the thought. In the kitchen, the women share a similar conversation, with Ann confessing she no longer wants to sleep with her husband.

Over dinner, talk turns to Lars’ doctor colleague, who left his wife and children for a much younger woman. The needling dialogue (penned by Staho and longtime writing partner Peter Asmussen) hits a nerve middle-aged couples will relate to: What’s more important, passion or security? When Susanna and Ulf defend the man, their surprised partners feel a sliver of fear that unruly passion might one day disrupt their own relationships.

Playing out over a series of kitchen conversations, living-room confessions, contrasting bedroom scenes and progressively tense dinners, the couples’ relationships become increasingly fraught with lies and hypocrisy. Discovery of the erring partners’ betrayal is inevitable, but the suspense of when and how it will come about makes for compelling viewing.

Working with Staho for a fourth time (after “Now,” “Day and Night” and “Bang Bang Orangutang”), the excellent Persbrandt embodies a sensitive, almost milquetoast character quite unlike anything he’s essayed before.

Spitfire Endre, seemingly without makeup, brings out every nuance of a woman who knows her worth and feels the pain of being doubly deceived. Lundqvist has more trouble shading her role, but Eklund is entirely convincing.  

Glowing tech package should score as strongly on the tube as on the bigscreen.

Heaven's Heart

Sweden

Production

A Trollhattan Film production, in co-production with Sonet Film, Pan Vision, XX Film, Film i Vast, Sveriges Television. (International sales: Trust Film, Hvidovre, Denmark). Produced by Jonas Frederiksen. Executive producers, Malte Forssell, Mimmi Spang, Rebecka Lafrenz, Peter Aelbaek Jensen. Co-producers, Peter Possne, Tomas Eskilsson, Gunnar Carlsson. Directed by Simon Staho. Screenplay, Peter Asmussen, Staho.

Crew

Camera (color), Anders Bohman; editor, Janus Billeskov Jansen; music, Stefan Nilsson; art director, Louise Drake af Hagelsrum; costume designer, Katja Watkins; sound (Dolby SRD), Henric Andersson; sound designer, Per Sundstrom. Reviewed on DVD, Miami, Feb. 27, 2008. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Berlinale Special.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Mikael Persbrandt, Lena Endre, Maria Lundqvist, Jakob Eklund, Ingemar Carlehed. (Swedish dialogue)

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