Heaven Knows What

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Heaven Knows What
Heaven Knows What poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBen Safdie
Joshua Safdie
Produced by
  • Sebastian Bear-McClard
  • Oscar Boyson
Screenplay by
Based onMad Love in New York City
by Arielle Holmes
Music by
CinematographySean Price Williams
Edited by
  • Ronald Bronstein
  • Ben Safdie
  • Iconoclast
  • Elara Pictures[1]
Distributed byRADiUS-TWC
Release date
Running time
94 minutes
  • United States
  • France
Box office$84,417[2]

Heaven Knows What is a 2014 American-French[3] drama film directed by Ben and Joshua Safdie and written by Ronald Bronstein and Joshua Safdie. The film stars Arielle Holmes, Buddy Duress, Ron Braunstein, Eleonore Hendricks, Caleb Landry Jones and Yuri Pleskun. The film was released on May 29, 2015, by RADiUS-TWC. It is based on Mad Love in New York City, Holmes' unpublished memoir of her life as a homeless heroin addict living on the streets of New York City. She was spotted panhandling by director Josh Safdie, who developed her story into the film.[4] The film is dedicated to Ilya Leontyev, Holmes' boyfriend in the film (played by Caleb Landry Jones), who died of an overdose in Central Park in April 2015.[5]


Harley, a homeless heroin addict in New York City, has just been dumped by another homeless addict named Ilya for a recent infidelity, and he refuses to have anything to do with her. Desperate to win him back, Harley asks Ilya if he would love her if she died, and he coldly says yes. Buying razor blades with money earned from begging and egged on by Ilya, Harley slits one wrist before Ilya panics and calls an ambulance. Harley is admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

After her release, Harley meets up with her friend, Mike, a low-level drug dealer, and another man she met earlier named Skully. However, annoyed at Skully's harassment, Harley soon drives him away. She spends her time crashing with Mike and using him as a source for heroin. Eventually, Ilya and Mike get into a fight at a park with Harley watching, and Ilya injures Mike's hand. While he recovers from his wound, Harley admits to Mike that she still loves Ilya, which causes Mike to leave her in frustration.

One night, Harley receives a phone call; Ilya is unconscious at a fast food restaurant from a drug overdose. Harley rushes there and revives Ilya, causing them to passionately reconcile. They then board a bus for Miami. While Harley is sleeping, Ilya gets off the bus alone and enters a vacant house. At night, the candle near his bed causes a fire, and Ilya dies after being enveloped in flames.

Harley wakes up on the bus and notices Ilya is not there. Devastated, she gets off the bus and goes back to New York. She goes to another fast food restaurant, where Mike is recounting the story of a fight he was in. Harley silently sits with Mike and his friends as he tells his story.



The film premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival on August 29, 2014.[6] On October 1, 2014, RADiUS-TWC acquired the film.[7]


Heaven Knows What received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 87%, based on 68 reviews, with a rating of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Grueling and rewarding in equal measure, Heaven Knows What hits hard -- and serves as a powerful calling card for its captivating star, Arielle Holmes."[8] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[9]

Kenji Fujishima of Slant Magazine described the film as "one of the most harrowing cinematic depictions of drug addiction in recent memory, reliant less on formal gimmickry than on close observation of behavior."[10] Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian gave it 5 stars out of 5 and praised Arielle Holmes' performance, saying: "While her accent is reminiscent of Linda Manz, her energy recalls Gena Rowlands in the best of Cassavetes' films."[11]

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter noted that "[among] the film's most impressive qualities is the Safdie brothers' boldly textural use of music — predominantly Isao Tomita's electronica versions of Debussy, but also a little Tangerine Dream and James Dashow as well as some hardstyle and black metal."[12] Nicolas Rapold of The New York Times commented that "[the] director of photography, Sean Price Williams, skillfully orchestrates lingering close-ups and up-the-street long shots, which are beautifully interwoven in the editing by Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie."[13]

It won the Grand Prix and the Best Director award at the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival.[3]


  1. ^ "Safdie Bros Launch Elara Pictures Banner With Drama 'Heaven Knows What'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  2. ^ "Heaven Knows What (2015)". Box Office Mojo. 2015-02-06. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  3. ^ a b Ishitobi, Noriki (2014-11-27). "U.S.-French film 'Heaven Knows What' takes top prize at Tokyo International Film Festival". Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-06-09.
  4. ^ Taylor, Trey. "Finally, a junkie love film that doesn't glamourise drugs". Dazed. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  5. ^ Olsen, Mark. "'Heavens Knows What' star knows all about the street life film depicts". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  6. ^ Foundas, Scott (2014-08-28). "'Heaven Knows What' Review: The Safdies Take a Step Forward". Variety. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  7. ^ McNary, Dave (2014-10-01). "Radius Buys Docu-Drama 'Heaven Knows What' for U.S." Variety. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  8. ^ "Heaven Knows What (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 2015-05-22. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  9. ^ "Heaven Knows What Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  10. ^ Fujishima, Kenji (2014-09-21). "Heaven Knows What". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2015-06-09.
  11. ^ Hoffman, Jordan (2015-06-02). "Heaven Knows What review: junk, heartbreak and the rush of the city". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-06-09.
  12. ^ Rooney, David (2014-08-28). "'Heaven Knows What': Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2015-06-09.
  13. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (2015-05-29). "Review: 'Heaven Knows What' Dramatizes a Young Junkie's Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-06-09.

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