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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Kardia (2006)


Director: Su Rynard
Starring: Mimi Kuzyk

Focus is unquestionably an important part of telling a story, but when that focus is as narrow and singular as it is in Kardia, it suffocates the narrative. This is a film that aspires to be meditative and deep but is so lifeless and stiff that it plays like a bad student film. Its protagonist, in her role as narrator, expresses a lot of ideas about the heart, ideas which I suppose are meant to make the audience reflect on the meaning of life and love and whatever, but it’s all so hollow and trite that all I found myself reflecting on was the fact that I just wasted an hour and a half of my life.

Kardia begins at the end, with Hope (Mimi Kuzyk) walking across a courtyard and collapsing, her heart – which we will find has always been fragile – having given out. She tells us the story of her life: how she was abandoned as an infant and found by a man (Peter Stebbings) who went on to raise her as his own, how he taught her about airplanes and solar eclipses, amongst other things. It’s discovered that Hope has a heart condition that will require an experimental procedure which involves Hope as well as a blood donor having open heart surgery at the same time in order to create a circuit so that the blood goes from the donor, through Hope and back through the donor. Her pseudo-father agrees to be the donor and the procedure is a success. Hope grows up and adores her father, whom we see teaching her various life lessons. All is well... or perhaps not.

What is real and what is not is never certain in this film. We learn that the man Hope refers to as “Dad” was actually a stranger who volunteered to be her donor after seeing her picture in the paper and that he died on the operating table. As a child, Hope constructs a fantasy relationship with this man, whom she knows only through a photograph of the two of them taken just before the operation, and is actually raised by a woman she refers to as Auntie Floorie (Donna Goodhand) who was sent by social services.

In theory I have no issue with this twist of the plot, it’s the execution that bothers me because it’s so sloppy. All Hope has of Dad is that one picture and the memories she has created for herself and when she gets hold of the hospital records and discovers that her donor was an unnamed volunteer, she’s shocked, which would imply that she had no idea that the man in the photograph was not, in fact, her father. However, even in her fantasy version of events where she’s raised happily by Dad, he finds her abandoned in the woods, which would imply that she’s always known that he wasn’t her father. We’re never really clear about what Hope knows and when she knows it, which robs the revelation – if it is a revelation because, again, either she knew or didn’t know that he wasn’t her father - of the impact it should have.

This film fails because it’s a prime example of “tell” rather than “show.” It informs us of emotions rather than evoking them and it reduces whatever warmth might be produced by the fantasy parenting sequences to nothing by being overly clinical in its exploration of the meaning of the heart. There are good ideas here, but the execution is poor.

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