Heaven Knows What

Jun 12 - Jun 18, 2015

(Josh and Benny Safdie, 2014, United States, DCP, 94 min)

Josh and Benny Safdie are drawn to direct movies about unusually charismatic people. Their last film mined the Icarus style story of Lenny Cooke, an NBA wannabe who narrowly missed his chance to call Lebron James his colleague. Daddy Longlegs channeled memories of the brothers' own distinctive dad. The Safdies share this impulse for human magnetism with their influence Martin Bell, who directed the searing, classic Seattle documentary Streetwise. Bell once remarked that every movie needs a star. His was a 13-year-old sex worker named Tiny. 

The Safdies' latest, biggest, and most fraught star to date is Arielle Holmes, whose real life struggles with homelessness and heroin addiction on the streets of New York inspired Heaven Knows What, which also has Seattle roots in the NWFF-commissioned short Straight Hustle.

Josh met Arielle in New York's Diamond District one day while doing research for another film and promptly hitched his wagon to the young woman's sparkling ferocity. Arielle soon revealed that she was 19 and homeless, with addictions to heroin and an abusive boyfriend named Ilya. Josh asked her to write down the story of her life on the streets, so she typed it out on the sly at Apple stores. Abandoning their other film, the Safdies made Arielle's story into the script for Heaven Knows What  (the resulting memoir, Mad Love in New York City will be published soon). Arielle plays a version of herself in the film, with the rest of the cast fleshed out by her real friends and acquaintances, including the endlessly wired Buddy Duress. One of the only professional actors is Caleb Landry-Jones (X-Men: First Class, Byzantium) who portrays the alluringly nihilistic Ilya.
A raw, operatic, and borderline exploitative expedition to the fringes of society, Heaven Knows What is shot with feverish speed and frenetic stealth zooms by talented cinematographer Sean Williams Price (Listen Up Philip, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga). Infused with Isao Tomita’s electronic renditions of Debussy, it is equal parts dystopic sci fi, Greek myth, and creative nonfiction. It's the kind of movie where at the end, you have to turn to your neighbor to exchange looks and gasps and words. You have to watch it loud and big. 

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