Another of the grand restored classics to play at this year’s HKIFF was the fully restored 216-minute version of Michael Cimino’s calamitous Western. This was not the first time I had seen the film, but witnessing this ponderous tale of immigrant farmers being ousted from their homes by the bloodthirsty Wyoming Stock Growers Association gives the film a chance to breathe, to peacock even, showing forth its incredible scale and spectacle – which also highlights how plodding and baggy it is narratively.
Kris Kristofferson is Averill, the Marshall caught in the middle of the dispute, friendly with members of the association (John Hurt – against the murderous move but too drunk to do anything about it – and Christopher Walken’s paid enforcer, Nate) but involved romantically with brothel madam and landowner, Ella (Isabelle Huppert) – whom Nate is also in love with. Dramatically, that’s about all there is to the film, beyond numerous individual tales of families being ousted from their land and butchered, but Cimino – the toast of the town after The Deer Hunter – blew millions on incredible outdoor sets and thousands of extras. There is no denying that he put his money where his mouth was, the film looks incredible and the locations wholly authentic, but Heaven’s Gate is always buckling under the weight of these extravagant creations, and the staid and flimsy love triangle isn’t always strong enough to sustain the film for close to four hours.