Color, 1991, 102 mins. 26 ses.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Starring Theresa Russell, Mark Harmon, James Russo, Julie Carmen, Will Patton, Richard Bradford, Talia Shire, Diana Douglas, Seymour Cassel
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-Ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Popular opinion has it that director Nicolas Roeg "lost it" somewhere in the early '80s after his unsurpassed, decade-long run of masterpieces including Don't Look Now, Performance, Walkabout, Bad Timing, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. More accurately, it would seem commercial opportunities changed drastically around that time and made it harder for filmmakers like him to successfully mount their ambitious visions on film, and though his made-for-TV films are indeed pretty anonymous, his later features are still more than worthy of a look. One of the strangest and most haunting films from that later period is Cold Heaven, a fragmented adaptation of Brian Moore's 1983 novel about a woman's crisis of spirit and faith in the face of a supernatural occurrence. The result is a challenging film to say the least, though it's made with Roeg's typically immaculate skill and also holds curiosity value as his one venture into zombie territory, though not in the way you might expect.
While in Mexico for a conference with her physician husband, Alex (Harmon), Marie (Russell) carries on an affair with his colleague, Daniel (Russo), who's married to Anna (Carmen). She plans to break the news of the affair and her plans to separate after some afternoon boating, but that's all upended when Alex is struck by an inattentive boat driver and suffers both a skull fracture and brain damage. Later at the hospital he's pronounced dead, which provokes a variety of conflicting emotions Marie finds difficult to reconcile. However, that's nothing compared to what happens when Alex's corpse vanishes from the hospital the morning his autopsy is set to begin. Soon after, Alex turns up at the hotel room where the guilt-ridden Marie is forced to come to terms with what she was planning to do to their marriage. As Alex seems to drift back and forth between stages of lifelessness, lapsed Catholic Marie tries to find answers from the church in the form of Father Niles (Patton) and Sister Martha (Shire) while continuing her affair to diminishing returns with Daniel. Soon she comes to realize that a genuinely divine intervention has intruded on her life and made her reassess everything she thought she knew.
A family affair of sorts for Roeg, this film finds him reuniting once again with regular screenwriter Allan Scott (Don't Look Now), composer Stanley Myers, and his wife, Russell, with whom he worked here for the final time before their divorce after many titles together. It's also a return to experimental form for the director after his prior big screen feature (and his most mainstream title by far), 1990's The Witches (with this one completed and copyrighted later that same year), as well as his solid 1989 TV version of Sweet Bird of Youth (also with Harmon). Even when it refuses to connect the dots, the film is a potent viewing experience thanks to Roeg's endlessly fascinating editing style, the uncomfortable themes swirling around together here, and the truly out-there final resolution that drags the film into spiritual territory that proves to be a make or break proposition for many viewers. (It would also make a very interesting, more upbeat companion film to the same year's The Rapture.) Apart from the welcome but very underused Carmen, the cast all does well including a nice turn by Seymour Cassel as the U.S. aide in Mexico; for some reason, actor Lenny von Dohlen (Twin Peaks, Electric Dreams) also turns up here in a significant role as a hotel attendant but isn't credited anywhere in the film or on IMDb.
Available via Ronin Flix and Diabolik, Cold Heaven returns to home video for the first time on home video since its initial Hemdale VHS and laserdisc editions courtesy of Scorpion Releasing's Blu-ray. Now the property of MGM, it looks much, much better here than before with a crisp, satisfying transfer that makes the most of the film's very colorful, atmospheric cinematography. At least as vitally, the original Dolby Stereo mix is rendered here with an excellent DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track featuring great presence and separation throughout; optional English SDH subtitles are provided. The trailer is included along with entirely appropriate bonus ones for Clifford, Last Rites, The Heavenly Kid, 3:15, and California Dreaming.
Reviewed on August 30, 2020.