See 'Heaven Knows What', an impossibly genuine film about surviving NYC with a heroin addiction
“Would you forgive me if I died?” Harley asks Ilya. He says yes. We watch her attempt suicide in a park. We watch him watching her do it, laughing, cheering her on. It's all filmed with a long lens and heavy glass filters from half a block away and you will never get closer to a story like this unless you lived it.
Arielle Holmes was Harley. In Heaven Knows What, she plays her past self -- nineteen, homeless, shuffling her existence through the tedium, horror and ecstasy of heroin addiction. Mostly tedium. Lying and hustling. Begging for change, for a hit, for another hit, for a place to sleep, for not having her things stolen, for people not to die. Also starring Caleb Landry Jones of Antiviral as Ilya, Heaven Knows What opens in select theaters today.
Buddy Duress who plays Mike, who also to a degree was Mike, joined the directors on stage at the Rooftop Films screening at the Gawker HQ last night.
There is a good back story to the film about the directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie befriending Arielle in Chinatown. Each time they do a Q&A, they speak in awe of her, what she's lived through, lived past and revisited for the film.
When someone from the audience tried to pin a structure of exploitation on the directors, Duress interrupted to defended them. He was loud and vulnerable, talking at length about their real friendship and how the experience changed his life. Arielle would have been there to say the same, if she wasn't on a set filming another movie.
It's incredibly well crafted, of course, but it's real in an awful way. Futility hovers above everything. Happiness is minutia, a temporary hole that swallows you and spits you back out onto the sidewalk to take a bus and not go anywhere, to steal energy drinks from bodegas and resell them next door.
After everything was said, it seemed that the Safdies had made a film that was impossibly genuine. Not a caricature of addicts and their genre of suffering (like those of endless pop NYC crime shows for millions of casually sadist television consumers), not festering in cinematic despair (no offense to Noé), not glorifying while discarding, but not robbing it of fun either (the kind of rabid abandon of those fully aware being close to death in every meaning of the sense, of exploding and fading simultaneously). But that was the past. “The past is a nightmare,” one of the Safdies said last night. “You don't talk about the past.”