By engaging such unfamiliar cinematic topics as the Inuit community and cartography, Vincent Ward's Map of the Human Heart is in many ways a highly original film. But its insights are only slightly above average, so it doesn't have the lingering impact it should. Eager to turn the separated lovers, played earnestly by Jason Scott Lee and Anne Parillaud, into the stuff of epic tragedy, Ward makes the curious decision to have Avik's surrogate father (Patrick Bergin) become his rival, the result of a multitude of chance meetings. This seems to be a comment on the two-faced nature of Avik's white savior, and hence the civilized world in general, which Avik enters by betraying his simpler Inuit roots. But it plays more as a case of heaping irony upon irony, drawing attention to Ward's exaggerated ruminations on fate: Once Avik is, improbably, reunited with his childhood love, she's in the arms of the very man who made the reunion possible. Ward's film is best when providing the thoughtful details of their romance, from the innocence of their giggly Catholic school bonding, to their wartime meeting in the domed ceiling of a building that may be bombed at any moment. Any film that stages a passionate tryst atop a hot air balloon -- not in the passenger area, mind you, but actually on top -- definitely has a certain uniqueness. Ultimately, Lee and Parillaud give Map of the Human Heart enough emotional resonance to carry it past its clumsier metaphors and thematic over-stretching.
by Derek Armstrong review