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Black Heaven (2010)
Director: Gilles Marchand

review by Ian Sales

The freedom from consequences given by games such as MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games) has been the subject of many stories and yet, in all such, it is the bleed-over of the repercussions the game-players seek to abrogate which drives the narratives, and so too for Black Heaven (aka: L'autre monde). The title alludes to a MMORPG called 'Black Hole', which appears to be a mix of noir, cyberpunk and steampunk. The real world, however, is the C�te d'Azur in southern France.

It begins innocently enough. Gaspard (Gr�goire Leprince-Ringuet), Yann (Pierre Niney), Ludo (Ali Marhray), and Marion (Pauline Etienne) are friends. In fact, Gaspard and Marion are more than friends, and it is while snogging in a changing cubicle on the beach that they discover a mobile phone. A text message arrives as they are investigating it, which asks the owner to meet at a local church at a specified time. Sensing a mystery, Gaspard and Marion also turn up to the meeting... and witness a beautiful young woman meet with a young man. The pair leave in the man's car, and Gaspard and Marion follow them on Gaspard's scooter.

Some hours later, the game turns serious when they find the couple in their car with a pipe directing the exhaust into its interior. They rescue the girl in time, but the young man is dead. Gaspard notices a video-camera on the car's dashboard. It has been recording the attempted suicide. He pockets it. And subsequently becomes obsessed with the young woman, Lily (Louise Bourgoin). He watches the video of her and the man in the car repeatedly. Both the video and the text message of earlier mention a MMORPG called Black Hole, and so Gaspard buys himself a copy, and goes hunting in its virtual world for Lily's avatar. Shortly afterwards, in the real world he meets Lily - her real name proves to be Audrey - since her overprotective brother, Vincent (Melvil Poupard), is a member of a group of minor drug dealers known to Ludo.

There is another factor associated with MMORPGs - with, in fact, most online behaviour - which has also been the subject of many stories: its anonymity; and further, the chance for people to be, to present themselves, as someone else. Gaspard's avatar in Black Hole does not resemble himself, and the name he uses is not his own. But neither is Audrey - indeed Lily is introduced as a chanteuse in a near-deserted nightclub in a scene reminiscent, but for the fact it is CGI, of a film by David Lynch. She, of course, does not recognise Gaspard, although in the real world she does approach him and appears to desire his friendship. Gaspard's burgeoning obsession thus takes two forms: with Lily in Black Hole (and that real-world version of her on the video), and Audrey in real life. As a result, his relationship with Marion begins to suffer. And yet, in everything he does with Audrey, there is the shadow of Vincent haunting them.

The femme fatale has appeared many times throughout the history of cinema. In almost all cases, the woman has been a construction of the obsessed man: she can never be what he believes her to be. In Black Heaven, the object of Gaspard's obsession is Lily, an avatar in an online game-world. But she is also Audrey, a young woman recovering from a suicide attempt. The two are not the same, both figuratively and literally - as Gaspard eventually discovers to his cost.

Sadly, for all its European stylishness, or the splash Bourgoin makes on the screen, the story of Black Heaven is neither especially original nor interesting. Given that the plot is predicated on the behaviour of Gaspard, behaviour with which it is admittedly difficult to identify, there is a character-shaped hole at the centre of the film. Further, the story's moral is a little tired and, it has to be said, somewhat 1990s. Arguments about anonymity and identity on the Internet may still be raging, but they've moved on from the point Black Heaven covers. It doesn't help that the graphics for Black Hole also feel a little old-fashioned and bland. Black Heaven could have made some interesting points about the collision of online anonymity and real world behaviour, but instead chose to be a light thriller about an obsessed young man, and a damaged young woman and her sociopathic older brother.

Black Heaven

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