Review: Many heavens above the seventh (2017)

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Director: Jan Matthys | 119 minutes | drama | Actors: Brit Van Hoof, Koen de Graeve, Sara de Roo, Peter Seynaeve, Viviane de Muynck, Nell Cattrysse, Herman Gilis, Lucas de Mulder, Jos Verbist, Ariane Van Vliet, Willy Thomas, Mieke Verdin

Tyrants can disrupt an entire society. Or a family. We find a tyrant of the most mundane kind in the Flemish feature film “Many heavens above the seventh”. In it, old Jeanne manages the lives of her adult daughters and her alcohol-drowning husband from a distance. Jeanne is an evil toddler in the body of a 68-year-old. A toddler who wails, sucks, whines, curses and complains all day long.

In psychiatric terms, Jeanne is a textbook example of a cluster-b disturbed, a cluster in which we meet sociable types like the narcissist, sociopath and BP. In “Many Heavens Above Seventh” we zoom in on the relatives of such a pathological case. Husband Jos tolerates Jeanne because he would rather have a bad relationship than be left alone. Daughter Elsie is married to a good party to the satisfaction of Jeanne, but slowly rebels with the help of a new love. Granddaughter Lou has her own problems.

The biggest victim is the youngest daughter Eva, who is so systematically slated by Jeanne that not a shred of self-esteem is left. In her desperate search for appreciation, she inevitably attracts the wrong types. Moreover, all the criticism has made her mega-critical of herself.

No, “Many heavens above seventh” is not a fun family movie. With a (too) important role for coincidence. When Jos tries to deal with his grief with the help of compelling music, that is of course exactly the moment when Jeanne comes home from a message. When Jos wants to make a (somewhat soapy) confession to his dying brother, that’s exactly the point where the family comes in.

The depiction of Eve’s misery is flawless, with Brit van Hoof as a great performer. Eva is the kind of woman you rarely see in movies, because this type serves as much as possible in daily life. That does not make the suffering any less, which we experience on Jeanne’s birthday, for example. We would prefer to crawl under the table together with Eva.

The music is always appropriate, the dialogues are fine (but sometimes too useful to the story), the actors are top class and the film jumps smoothly from one character to another. This film adaptation of Griet on de Beeck’s debut novel is therefore not a pleasant viewing experience. Sometimes watching is unbearable, but that is exactly the power of this film about unbearable suffering.

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