Under Heaven


Bottom 40% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

1998 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Dramatic Competition


Joely Richardson, Aden Young, Molly Parker, Kevin Phillip, Krisha Fairchild

Non-Cast Credits

Meg Richman, Robin Schorr, brian Swardstrom, Mickey Liddell, Claudio Rocha, Deborah Zietman, Sharon lomofsky, Marc Olsen


The majesty of this work, of Meg Richman's fine script and direction, rests first in its embrace of film noir and melodrama and second, in its quiet shattering of the rules that govern these genres. Consequently, as Under Heaven enters noir territory with its deception and murderous leanings, the atmosphere which typically prevails (nighttime shadows, etc.) is replaced with bright sunlight, flowers, and waterfalls. Similarly, the "big house" (symbolizing patriarchal values), which is a melodramatic staple, appears here as an airy flowerpot, luxuriant in spiritual and emotional fertility.

The plot is deceptively simple. Cynthia and her slacker, chemically dependent boyfriend Buck are on the road to nowhere. Something's got to change, so Cynthia takes a job caring for the ethereal Eleanor, a wealthy young woman dying of cancer. Eventually Cynthia involves Buck in a scheme of romancing Eleanor in her last days, guaranteeing the money will be bequeathed to him. A fascinating triangular relationship develops that no one has foreseen: Cynthia, Eleanor, and Buck fall deeply in love. The film is remarkably sensual from start to finish. The characters are extremely attractive and seductive (and engage in one of the sexiest and most moving lovemaking scenes in recent film history). Yet Richman wisely supports overt sexual attraction with an intensely sensual world: music, cooking and eating, conversation, gardening, fashion, color. This is a truly lovely film which is engaging, complex...heavenly.


Andrea Alsberg (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.