Heaven (2002) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for a scene of sexuality
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Remo Girone, Stefania Rocca, Mattia Sbragia
Director: Tom Tykwer
Screenplay: Krzystof Kieslowski, Krzystof Piesiewicz
Review published December 23, 2006
Tom Tykwer's second directorial effort after Run Lola Run has him keeping the running time brief (about 97 minutes), but the pace is similar to his more somber film in between, The Princess and the Warrior. Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who collaborated for many fine films including the famous trilogy Three Colors: Blue, White and Red, the film plays its drama straighter than most of Tykwer's works until the last 20 minutes where he employs some of his more artistic and symbolic touches. This was to be the first in an all new trilogy before Kieslowski's death, and after a bit of shopping around, Tykwer was seen as someone who could possibly bring the vision to fruition. Not as satisfying as Lola nor as profound as much of Princess, Heaven at least shows that Tykwer could direct a mostly conventional narrative film with success if he wanted to, and even though some will be lost to the film during the metaphoric climax, the story is still interesting and directed with competent finesse.
Cate Blanchett (Fellowship of the Ring, Bandits) gives another terrific performance as an English teacher who is disgusted by the lack of interest by the local Italian police to her husband's drug overdose, and decide to take the law in her own hands by planting a bomb in the office of the drug dealer she feels responsible. Unexpectedly, the bomb, hidden in a trash can, is removed by a cleaning woman, who is killed along with a father and two children when the bomb goes off in the elevator. Blanchett is brought in for questioning, and when finding she has killed innocents, she is devastated by her error, both at having killed the wrong people and the fact that her intended victim is still alive. Ribisi (According to Spencer, Gone in Sixty Seconds) plays Filippo, a policeman who translates Blanchett's responses to her Italian interrogators, and falls in love with her. He devises a plan to help her escape, but she only agrees because she wants to avenge her husband's death.
How much you enjoy Heaven may have a great deal to do with how much you are willing to forgive the heavy artistic license employed by the screenplay. It seems very incredible to believe that a young man could so quickly fall in love with a woman he not only has just met, but who also admittedly killed four people, even if it were not intended. Even so, it is also hard to swallow the great lengths by which he will go to try to assist in her escape. The story tries to convince you that the two are somehow connected in a way that defies description, and their love is somehow destined by divine powers, but this notion doesn't seem fully realized, and the result is a romance that has neither spark nor depth.
As flimsy as the love angle is, Heaven is still very interesting, and for much of the way, their plight and attempts at escape make for some compelling fare. The dialogue is well-written, the direction is handled with somber precision, and the acting by Blanchett provides a solid foundation to somehow keep the film from sinking from the weight of its own pretentiousness.
Heaven is definitely not a film for everyone, in fact, I would venture most viewers will have a hard time coming away liking the film because of the lack of sympathy for the characters or when the film tries to tie in religious undertones in a mystifying final stretch. However, I must say that despite what may be legitimate reasons to dislike Heaven as a film, I was fascinated by the story and remained riveted for the duration. In the years following, the next two films in the loose trilogy were made, Hell and Purgatory, but without Tykwer at the helm.
©2006, 2012 Vince Leo