The Wandering Review: ‘The Day I Saw Your Heart’
By Laurie Baron
SAN DIEGO — Jennifer Devoldère’s The Day I Saw Your Heart is the Jewish Film Club’s (www.jewishfilmclub.com) DVD selection for this July and August. It stars Mélanie Laurent as X-Ray technician Justine Dhrey and Michel Blanc as her prickly father Eli. Ju, as she is called, seethes with resentment against Eli. When she was growing up, he spent most of his time on tour playing bass in a jazz band. He returned when his first wife divorced him and went to the United States. Like a French Larry David, Eli says whatever comes to mind, no matter how insulting it is to those who hear it.
In the opening scene he shocks both Ju and her sister Dom by announcing that his current wife Suzanne is pregnant. Dom and her husband Bertrand recoil at his insensitivity because they have been trying in vain to have a child and just decided to adopt one. Ju is livid that her father who has always criticized her is now poised to inflict the same psychic damage on another daughter or son. She bitterly recalls all the times he disappointed and hurt her. Eli defends his parenting style by remarking, “As a good Jewish father, I was preparing you for disillusionment.” She snaps back, “You were never there. You don’t know us.”
On the rebound from breaking up with her most recent beau Atom, Ju has moved in with her sister and husband. Unbeknownst to her, her father has cultivated friendships with her ex-boyfriends and became golf partners with the last one, Atom, a comedian of Armenian descent. As Eli admits later in the film, she has good taste in men, all of whom possess a Bohemian streak similar to his. Ju’s latest romantic interest is Sami, a part-time boxer who sells shoes. When he injures his shoulder, he goes to the clinic where Ju works and gets X-rayed by her. Ju assures him she can identify “the source of pain,” an ability she lacks when it comes to diagnosing her personal problems. Using him as a muse, she creates a montage of X-rays to reconstruct what he looks like from the inside out.
After viewing the montage, Eli devotes himself to making Sami his next buddy by shopping for shoes at the store where he works. He causally mentions to Sami that he’s Ju’s father and that he saw Sami’s X-rays. He freaks Sami out by remarking how well-hung Sami appeared to be in the images and inviting him out for a cup of coffee. Sami kicks him out of the store and rebuffs Ju because he doesn’t want to deal with her emotional baggage.
X-rays, CAT scans, and sonograms are obvious metaphors for detecting what lies underneath the surface of a person’s exterior, whether it is one’s personality or skin. The development of Suzanne’s fetus is tracked in successive sonograms. As it grows, Dom and Bertrand adopt a Chinese girl. When Eli insists that Ju compose an X-ray montage of him, she complies and discovers not only that he has a heart, but that it may have a defect as the audience already surmises. In the course of the film, Eli confesses that he never liked children, “especially girls,” because they bored him, but that he intensely missed his daughters whenever he was apart from them. Ju peers into her father’s chest to see his heart, but makes little effort to look deeper into his soul.
What makes these family dynamics Jewish is not the Yiddish words Eli occasionally utters. Rather it is the recurring reminders that the Dhrey family once were immigrants, and, that the France they now inhabit is becoming more ethnically and religiously diverse. Eli employs a Pakistani named Mahboob in his store and observes that Mahboob toils in the same field as Eli’s immigrant ancestors. Sami is an Arab. Eli and Atom converse and discern a kinship in their career trajectories. Opposed to his son playing jazz like a “Negro,” Eli abandoned his career as a musician to manage his father’s store. Atom’s father refuses to attend his son’s performances because he wanted him to get a higher education and pursue a more respectable profession. Facing a heart valve replacement operation with a valve from a pig, Eli consults with a rabbi to find out if this is kosher. Since Atom accompanies him, the rabbi wonders if Atom is Jewish. Eli argues that Armenians are just like Jews: “They’re in the Diaspora, have genocide. They even look like us. They’re good at business. An ‘Orthodox’ comedian, how Jewish is that, Rabbi?” The adoption of a Chinese granddaughter rounds off the film’s celebration of multiculturalism. Eli is delighted because many Chinese reside in the neighborhood where his store is located.
The Day I Saw Your Heart has enough humor and pathos to entertain. Unfortunately, its ending is too contrived. It is difficult to believe that Ju has no inkling that her father remained friends with her exes―two of whom worked for years at her father’s store―, that Suzanne and Dom never informed her that Eli needed heart surgery, or that the only way to reconcile with him would be to talk with him. For an artist who discloses the inner essence of everything and everyone she X-rays, Ju’s insight into her relationship with her father is overly opaque.
Lawrence Baron recently retired from being the Nasatir Professor of Modern Jewish History at San Diego State University. He is the author of Projecting the Holocaust into the Present: The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema (Rowman and Littlefield: 2005) and editor of The Modern Jewish Experience in World Cinema (Brandeis University Press: 2011). He may be contacted at email@example.com
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