Heaven Knows What resets the genre of drug addiction drama by combining stylistic cinematography with an incredible autobiographical performance by first-time actor Arielle Holmes. The film is being shown as part of the Drugs in Film symposium.
Set on the streets of post-financial crash New York, it depicts the real story of a drug-addicted lovers struggling from moment to moment, surrounded by a circle of deceptive and flaky individuals.
The story of how the film came to be made is as fascinating as the film itself. Co-directors and brothers Josh and Benny Safdie were filming test shots in the diamond district of New York when they discovered the 20-year old Holmes, whose charisma shone through her rough exterior. They convinced her to write a memoir about her life, Mad Love in New York City, which was turned into a script.
Holmes was the natural choice to play herself. No professional actor could portray the determination, anguish, cunning and hope as convincingly as Holmes, who had no prior acting experience. Her performance is what makes Heaven Knows What stand out from any previous drug-related drama, and gives the film something new to say about the topic.
The film is also a stylistic triumph, as the directors use long lenses to cast a distant haze over the city streets surrounding the characters. This juxtaposition of cinematic beauty with a confronting story is what gives Heaven Knows What its edge.The music is a fitting electronic soundtrack that adds to the story without swallowing it in melancholy.
Supporting Holmes is a cast of actors who deliver stand-out performances, including Caleb Landry Jones playing Holmes’ deadbeat boyfriend, the controversial rap musician Necro, and Buddy Duress, another addict-turned-actor.