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One From the Heart

Two decades ago, critics so thoroughly panned One From the Heart that Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios decided to halt its distribution. Numerous reasons were cited as to why the film was greeted so negatively, none of which had anything to do with the quality of the film. A far more important film was expected to follow Apocalypse Now and was bewildered by this little romantic comedy. The public was not ready to embrace a mainstream film that so prominently incorporated the singing and dancing of musicals. Now, restored and digitally remastered, Zoetrope is betting that without the shadow of Apocalypse Now and a moviegoing audience that has embraced the musical genre, One From the Heart will finally be appreciated on its own merits.

The story is simple. Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Franny (Teri Garr) split up on the evening of their fifth anniversary, when Franny realizes that if Hank has not changed by now, he is not going to. So after a vociferous argument, they set off in search of someone better than the one they have. One From the Heart purports itself to be a romantic comedy, yet there is never a sense of either romance or comedy. In lieu of romance are extended sequences of crying set to Tom Waits' Las Vegas lounge music, and attempts at humor seem conspicuously absent. Perhaps some of the corny dialogue is intended for laughs, but it just comes off as, well, corny. And the caricatured romantic interests of the two leads don't seem comical, just poorly written. In fact, the only funny thing about the film is that the creators believed it to be the mainstream cash cow that would recoup the losses from an inaccessible film named Apocalypse Now.

Presumably, we are supposed to root for Hank and Franny to reconcile, yet listening to their horrible babble, it's difficult not to cheer against them. Every time Franny complains about Hank, she says something completely accurate. He is a miser who wouldn't even take his girlfriend out for a nice dinner on their fifth anniversary. He does seem contented with his humble position in life and not looking to change. It makes one wonder what reason they have to get back to together.

Despite its severe shortcomings as a film, the production values stand on their own as an accomplishment. The quality of the reproduction is nothing short of miraculous and undoubtedly looks better now than it did on its original print. The lighting and colors in the background shine brilliantly in the restoration, and are essential to the overall effect the cinematographer is trying to achieve. The filmmakers certainly demonstrate a visual flair in their shooting. Colors are enhanced in certain shots to establish a chromatic theme; they divide the screen to show the ordeal that Hank and Franny experience simultaneously. Twenty years later, these techniques are endemic to filmmakers, and still they believe it an indication of their originality.

From a technical standpoint, this film is a triumph as it utilizes computer technology thought to be absurd then, but considered the standard today. However, appreciating what they accomplished 20 years after the fact can be difficult. Similar to comparing the CGI in Star Wars to that of the Matrix or Lord of the Rings trilogies, what was once wondrous now appears ordinary, or even rudimentary. In any case, most of what is impressive about One From the Heart occurs behind the scenes and has to do with Coppola's direction and Academy Award winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's use of lighting. Because of this, it is likely the making-of documentaries included on the upcoming DVD will be more interesting than the film itself.

Stars: 1.5 out of 5