Francis Ford Coppola’s ethereal musical One From the Heart, now available in Reprise, a deserved new restoration, is a treat for your senses.
Hot off winning his second Palme d’Or, Francis Ford Coppola sought a departure from his character and plot-driven hits of the 1970s with the emotive, dreamy music-driven One From the Heart. The film was initially a commercial and critical failure, but its reputation has only grown over the years and it is now re-released in a definitive new cut, One From the Heart: Reprise, with the stunning restoration it deserves.
Frederic Forrest (The Conversation) and Teri Garr (After Hours) star as Hank and Frannie, who split on the night of their fifth anniversary, as Frannie’s desire to explore the world and seek adventure isn’t shared by her husband, who is content to stay in Las Vegas. As they walk away, they both join their current paramours – Hank’s is Leila (Nastassja Kinski, Tess), who performs stunts in a circus, and Frannie’s is Ray, a cocky yet charming waiter who’s keen to become a bar pianist. Throughout the film, Hank is abusive towards Frannie. With its simple plot and such a contemptible protagonist, it’s not hard to see why a large audience didn’t connect with the film back in 1982, but watching it is a testament to Coppola’s diversity as a director and confidence as a storyteller.
Cinema is all about sight and sound, and One From the Heart is a delightful reward in those respects. Neon surges through the model-village-esque Las Vegas to remind us the city never sleeps, and a particularly dreamy sequence where Hank sees his secret lover in the desert at night is just joyous to witness. The dances, particularly Leila’s, are brilliantly choreographed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) and the bright sets and lighting suggest a nostalgia for the Las Vegas of old. Right at the start, with the title lit up in cursive neon and the credits announced on loud hotel signs, you know you are going to watch something special. The film begins and ends with the opening and closing of a blue curtain to stress the theatricality that Coppola is striving for.
Perhaps the film’s greatest virtue is Tom Waits’s soundtrack. Tom Waits is of course no stranger to moving, sorrowful ballads about lost and forbidden love, and naturally it makes him a perfect fit for the film’s themes. Waits and Crystal Gayle sing the soundtrack, which isn’t ‘performed’ in the usual ‘set-piece’ style of musicals, but rather plays over the film’s narrative. While Hank and Frannie’s communication problems drift them further apart, Waits and Gayle’s voices serve as abstract avatars for the pair’s emotions. I wouldn’t be surprised if Annie Ross’s jazz interludes for Short Cuts were inspired by this innovative use of music.
When the final curtain fell, I was shocked. Not only by its ending, which lends itself to different emotional interpretations, but also simply that the film had ended; it is so deftly paced and not a frame is wasted. One From the Heart is a seriously underrated picture by one of America’s most important filmmakers. Audiences in 1982 perhaps weren’t ready for a film that foregrounded emotion, aesthetic and atmosphere before plot and characters, but seven years on from La La Land, I think the world will be far more receptive.
Coppola has previously made Redux and Coda, recuts of Apocalypse Now and The Godfather: Part III respectively, and Reprise also has the benefit of coming in a gorgeous new restoration that really gives justice to the stunning visuals of the world he creates. It’s a pretty film with a dark edge, and has never looked better.
One From the Heart: Reprise will be released in UK cinemas on February 16, 2024 and on 4K UHD, Blu-Ray & Digital from March 4.