Heaven Will Wait (Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, 2016)
Heaven Will Wait is a terribly uneven and messy film. Intertwining three to four storylines, Heaven Will Wait attempts to fully depict the environment in France which creates youth terrorists. Unfortunately, it attempted far more than it could succeed at and what’s left are a handful of disjoint stories of wildly varied quality dependent solely on the actresses’ ability to salvage each respective piece.
The primary focus of the film was on two juxtaposed teen girls. Sonia, Noémie Merlant, attempted to fly to Syria to be a martyr for Islam, but was stopped. After that, she’s arrested for conspiring with terrorists and is placed under house arrest. Her story in the film picks up here as she and her parents struggle with her as she attempts to deprogram the terrorist doctrine that had been ingrained in her. Mélanie, Naomi Amarger, on the other hand is a traditional student, who seemingly gets good grades and is an accomplished cellist. After her Grandmother dies though, she searching for meaning is coerced into the world of a violent sect of Islam. The additional storylines receive significantly less development and screen time and include an older woman, Sylvie, who seems to be struggling with her past associations with ISIS (though to be honest, the development of her story was so poor that I couldn’t say I really know what was going on). Finally, the film frequently checked in with a support group for parents of children who became involved in terrorism. It’s unclear whether this final section constitutes its own storyline or not as this was where the additional plots feigned some sort of connectivity.
Due to this lack of real connectivity, Heaven Will Wait seems more like a handful of vignettes thrown in a blender than a cohesive whole. At very minimum throwing out the Sylvie plot line would have allowed us to focus solely on the recruitment practices and aftermath on young women. Instead it became very clear that director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar bit off far more than she could chew, and the film suffers for it. When examining Mélanie’s plot line in particular, she was given so little development as a character that the entire story came off as forced and fabricated. ACTRESS is not truly to blame for this dissonance, though I have to assume a stronger performance couldn’t have hurt, but she was given very little to work with. She goes from happy and content to sad and mournful to suddenly a devote Muslim who is ready to travel to Syria with a complete lack of development in between. There may be a story worth telling here, but this film has no interest in actually telling it.
Noémie Merlant, on the other hand, puts in such a strong performance as Sonia, that even the lack of time and under writing leaves her story believable and engaging. I sympathize over the struggles that she’s dealing with as she detoxes from her experiences. Her father’s demonization of all of Islam instead of the sect that lead her to her beliefs seems instinctual, and her response to not being even allowed the religion that brought her initial comfort is heartbreaking. It’s this performance and story that leaves me unable to issue a blanket dissuasion of the entire film. Instead I can only long for the film that would have been if Noémie Merlant was given the full time to explore Sonia.