“How Heavy This Hammer” opens with a medium close-up of its protagonist, Erwin, a jowly, bespectacled, middle-aged man. He sits before a computer screen, slack-jawed, the image of the medieval video game he’s playing reflected in his glasses, while Renée Fleming sings the famous “Casta Diva” aria from Bellini’s “Norma.”
Another week, another movie about the Tragedy of Modern Life that kicks off with a “what an incredible irony” cultural juxtaposition.
Written and directed by Kazik Radwanski, “How Heavy This Hammer” is set in Toronto and depicts Erwin (Erwin Van Cotthem — yes, it is also another movie that signals its ostensible naturalism by having the characters take the names of their performers) not communicating with his wife (“I don’t want to talk about it anymore” is a frequent line), getting a little rough at rugby, singing along to Flemish songs in his car, and eventually leaving his wife and their two kids. He lets a room adjacent to a bar, always a good idea for an emotionally stunted adult male.
We never see Erwin at work, which allows the movie to eschew an “alienated labor” analysis and concentrate on the more currently fashionable “declining masculinity” theme. Whatever investigation it’s attempting, the movie is leaden in its pacing — the first 15 minutes feel like an hour — and its constricted shooting style, practically all hand-held almost close-ups, is transparent in its contrivance of realism.
“How Heavy” comes off like a loose remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok,” with the running amok and the why removed. For that, it deserves points for novelty, I suppose.
An earlier version of this review misidentified the language sung in the songs the main character sings along to while in his car. The songs are in Flemish, not German.