There are very few films that can accurately be described as being unlike anything other. Francis Ford Coppola's challenging 1982 film ONE FROM THE HEART is one of those few films. The feature was one of the most notorious failures in screen history when it struggled to play in just a handful of theaters in 1982 but it has since undergone some critical and popular rethinking. ONE FROM THE HEART would all but destroy Francis Ford Coppola's desire to have his own group of players in his own self contained studio system, and it would finally bankrupt him financially but not artistically.
ONE FROM THE HEART is a tough film to write about. It is a flawed film that can't truly be considered among Coppola's greatest films but the work has to be admired for just how brave and uncompromising in its vision that it is. ONE FROM THE HEART is part old fashioned romantic comedy part old Hollywood musical but built, by 1982's standards, out of the most progressive shooting methods ever employed for a film. Coppola's shooting and editing style on this work (chronicled in the dvd's amazing supplemental section) was over a decade before its time and would influence countless filmmakers. The film remains a clear example of one that has to be seen, reading and writing about it can't really come close to describing its many charms and weaknesses. So the following should be looked upon as maybe some scattered notes rather than a full review of the film.
ONE FROM THE HEART'S plot is remarkably simple. A couple, Hank and Frannie, have a fight on their fifth anniversary and split up. On the night of their break up Frannie meets the suave waiter Ray, and Hank meets the mysterious Leila and the film follows the four of them as they recount their dreams, disappointments and desires. Hank and Frannie are played by Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr while Ray and Leila are played by Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski.
After the gruelling four year long ordeal that had been APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), Francis Ford Coppola wanted very much to create a simple old fashioned love story that would be filmed entirely on stages at his Zoetrope studios. Nothing is ever simple with Francis Ford Coppola though and the production of ONE FROM THE HEART became its own particular apocalypse. Dogged by financial difficulties, a massive and overwhelming set and stage scheme, crew walkouts (although at one point the majority gallantly worked for free), leaked press reports damning the film before anyone had ever seen it and a director that was falling apart trying to keep it all together, it is a miracle that ONE FROM THE HEART managed to get completed at all.
The film's virtues are easy to point out. The sets are stunning, with special mention going to the brave work of Production designer Dean Tavoularis. The music by Tom Waits is lovely and haunting as is the cinematography by legendary Vittorio Storaro (with assistance from Ronald Victor Garcia). The acting is uniformly good with special mention going to the young Raul Julia and Nastassja. The lead work by Forrest and Garr is fine but both of them at times feel slightly miscast (something I will get to in a second). Finally the direction by Coppola is always solid and at times inspired...so what is wrong with ONE FROM THE HEART?
The main problem I see with the film is that stylistically it is so inventive and so progressive that it frankly overwhelms Coppola's extremely slight screenplay. Add on the decision to set the film in modern times, even though the studio scenery and full frame photography all suggest old Hollywood and you've got an oddly disjointed film. Garr and Forrest are excellent in the lead roles but Coppola has the characters so underwritten and normal that his astonishing set simply buries them. Kinski and Julia come out better because they are more exotic and are allowed to not simply fade into the background. Nastassja's Leila is one of her most haunting, if smaller, roles and her performance of LITTLE BOY BLUE is one of the unquestionable highlights of the film, as is her final monologue about the art of disappearing.
Most of ONE FROM THE HEART'S fault indeed does belong in Coppola's script which he wrote with Armyan Bernstein with additional dialogue by Luana Anders. Bernstein was an inexperienced screenwriter and it shows as ONE FROM THE HEART'S storyline and dialogue always feels a little hollow. Anders, who did such great work on films like SHAMPOO (1975) and PERSONAL BEST (1982), probably gave it some flair but I think the script of ONE FROM THE HEART needed an entire makeover to make it the equal of Coppola's magnificent creative achievement.
Problems aside, I like ONE FROM THE HEART. I admire it and always like revisiting it. There was always something touching about it and when one views the documentaries on the film it feels simply revolutionary. It is also apparent from the dvd extras that this film never stood a chance as the press seemed absolutely obsessed with destroying Coppola and his dream studio..
I wish ONE FROM THE HEART had been a success as I have always loved the idea Coppola had for Zoetrope. It was to be not only a place where he could shoot his own films without studio interference and with his own actors but also a place of learning. Talented young actress Rebecca De Mornay is one of the films many 'understudies' and one of the most stirring aspects of the documentary is the shot of children coming to visit the set to see how a film is made (including Coppola's own children Sofia and Roman, both of who would attend the premiere with him and would later become accomplished writers and directors in their own right). Coppola's films are often centered around family and his movie company would have been as well.
Had ONE FROM THE HEART succeeded there is no question that Nastassja's career would have turned out differently. Coppola had planned on making her one of his key Zoetrope players and the two got along well during the shooting of the film. The film's crushing failure made this impossible though and the two never worked together again, although on the film's great audio commentary Coppola says that he would like to.
ONE FROM THE HEART is among the key films of the eighties and it is a work that visually is pretty untouchable. Its faults and failures perhaps make its sweet and sentimental tale of a love that is vanishing all the more poignant. It is currently available in a two disc set from Fantoma, featuring a group of extra features that are among the best ever offered on the home video market.