Doni is a playboy and a ladies man who has disappeared, leaving his friend Sganarell behind. Sganarell runs a small tobacco shop in town, where he organizes and takes care of Doni’s affairs, including dealing with the fallout of Doni’s many paramours.
But one day two women show up at the same time in the tobacco shop. Isabelle pops in, and then her romantic rival Charlotte does as well. The two women don’t know one another, and Doni’s best friend would like to keep it that way. But the shop’s close quarters — and the ardent affection of the two rivals — may get in the way.
Writer-director Guy Lichtenstein’s comedic short has a farcically awkward situation at its center, as the shopkeeper struggles to keep his friend’s romantic whirlwind aloft without crashing too many of its more delicate elements into one another.
In the hands of a less assured and clumsier filmmaker, such a set-up would be whipped into a froth of farce or slapstick. But here, it’s executed with a sense of discerning understatement and wry intelligence that elevates it into a sharply amusing portrait of one friend cleaning up another’s mess — and perhaps learning the limits of his loyalty.
As far as comedies go, it’s fairly muted, hitting its comic moments with a lightness and even delicacy of touch. The approach isn’t overly silly or overplayed, thanks to a tight script studded with small but telling character moments, brought to life by perceptive, understated performances all around. Like many comedies, the heart of the drama is all about awkwardness, but while a different comedic approach would warp the characters into caricatures of themselves, Sganarell here rarely loses his smooth equanimity in dealing with a potentially disastrous situation. There’s a cool professionalism that he’s developed from being Doni’s friend and perhaps cleaning up his personal messes over the year — which in and of itself is a funny comment.
The emphasis on subtlety extends to the film’s sense of craftsmanship, which is actually quite beautiful, though it never parades its excellence as a distraction from the story. The camerawork and cinematography have a warmly tasteful, natural look and feel that never sacrifices its restraint, even when things get sticky for Sganarell. As the two women and rivals for Doni’s affections realize just who the other is, Sganarell must extricate himself out of a complex web — a situation he handles with a surprising equanimity and some quick thinking.
“Heart Issues” is less a joke that pays off with a punchline, and more like a funny anecdote that you’d hear at a bar, laughing over life’s foibles over a few drinks. As a comedy of errors, it works because it feels a lot like life itself, and the knotty, outlandish situations we can get into — because people are weird, love is even weirder and sometimes our friends drive us crazy.