Heartbeat Detector is at once a corporate thriller, a WWII reconstruction and an existential crisis. It recalls Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal at times. Other times maybe 80s Godard.
Mathieu Almaric plays Simon. He’s the psychologist at a large firm who is headed with the task of diagnosing the supposedly ill partner Mathias (Michael Lonsdale). What starts as a slow look at big-business structure in a fraternity-hazing sort of way becomes an accusation of Nazi crimes and back-stabbing.
Heartbeat Detector is microcosmic in its attempt to relate the corporate structure to the aforementioned war crimes. Simon moves slowly throughout the world, often more confused than anyone else. As the tedium of the day-to-day and the confusion of his task at hand bear more heavily upon him he begins to unravel. His psychological torment is expertly displayed around the midway point of the film where he attends a rave with some of the younger colleagues. They take a boat to get there, get drunk and high and end up sleeping on the street. The whole sequence is shot from a distance, and once in the club, director Klotz utilizes the strobing lights to great effect – personifying the staccato battle taking place within Simon.
Much of Heartbeat Detector is dominated by bland, white walls, black trench coats, loveless kisses, and a camera that is very static and wide. Klotz and screenwriter Elisabeth Perceval give very little information throughout, and much of the weight of the drama falls onto Almaric’s shoulders. We are with him in many long, motionless moments, where he must externalize his confused thought process. One in particular, a shot of him in his nearly furniture-less apartment, flat up against his monochrome wall has the desired effect: his space is the same as him – distant, bland, unoccupied.
The thriller plotting of the film is actually squarely at odds with its anti-thriller technique. When something traditionally “exciting” is happening here, Klotz intentionally slows the pacing of his camera and edits. He looks away at dramatic moments and seems far more interested in Simon’s actual, physical movement than in anything else.
Aside from the flat framing and the white-dominated color scheme, Klotz applies other technique that pushes the film beyond convention. One sequence features a dream/memory subtly superimposed onto the present image. Superimposed might be the wrong word. In fact, the room sort of expands, as though another room is suddenly added onto it, wherein this flashback moment occurs. It’s an interesting way to present recollection as foregrounded, and as concurrent with reality.
The score/soundtrack, by folk-rock band Syd Matters is quite good, and Klotz’s use of music throughout continues his pattern of the anti-narrative. Consider one long sequence (and take) where Simon appreciatively watches a girl sing at a bar and then joins in with her. Shot in wide-shot and without real preferential framing (that is, while Simon is frame-center, little else tells us who is important), the actual, diegetic song is never heard. Instead, the non-diegetic soundtrack by Syd Matters plays, while we watch Simon and the girl sing an entirely different tune that we can’t hear at all. It’s odd, feels out of sync at first, and is eventually almost unintentionally in-sync. It’s like, as with the dream/memory scene, an unearthing of two simultaneous moments that are fighting for coexistence. By doing this spatially and aurally Klotz reinforces a world where what is immediately visible (read: the first room, Simon and the girl in the bar, and the overarching thriller context) is not that which is ultimately revealed to be of importance.