Miramax/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 93 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
If it seemed like Steven Spielberg had a challenge in front of him when he set about making the late Stanley Kubrick’s pet project A.I., imagine how Tom Tykwer must have felt when he made the decision to tackle Heaven. Written by brilliant Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski with long-time collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Heaven was intended to be the first of a new trilogy of films (being followed by Hell and Purgatory), Kieslowski’s announced retirement from filmmaking after Three Colours: Red apparently being reconsidered. But the trilogy would never be made; Kieslowski died in 1996, with only the screenplay for Heaven completed. It found its way to the screen several years later, though, through the heart and mind of a man who understood where Kieslowski was coming from - German director Tom Tykwer.
British schoolteacher Philippa (Cate Blanchett) has been living and working in Turin, Italy, for some time. But she’s an angry, broken woman; her husband died of a drug overdose some time ago, she’s seeing her young students take to drugs on a regular basis, and has just attended the funeral of a girl whose life was destroyed as a consequence of her habit. Philippa, with emotionless precision, plants a bomb in the office of the businessman she knows is responsible for the drug trade in the city. She doesn’t care if she’s captured; indeed, she rings the police to tell them she did it before the bomb even detonates. But the plan goes disastrously wrong, and when Philippa is caught and is confronted with what she has done she is inconsolable. However, her original burning desire to kill the object of her hatred remains. Meanwhile, while translating for Philippa during her interrogation, young police officer Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) falls in love with the prisoner, and begins to plan her escape.
Philippa (Cate Blanchett) evades capture.
Tom Tykwer, who came to international attention with Run Lola Run, but who seems more at home with less frenzied filmmaking than that of his big hit, has taken up the challenge of bringing Kieslowski’s final story to the screen with a genuine sensitivity for and understanding of the written material. It’s a logical progression for Tykwer after the dream-like The Princess and the Warrior; indeed, this time it’s almost like watching a dream played out on the screen, suffused as it all is by heightened senses and diffused reality. The story is straightforward enough, and the dialogue often verging on comical, but it all makes sense on the context of this ethereal, gentle and genuinely moving film. The focus is never on Philippa’s actions in themselves - the violence, when it happens, is always off-screen and underplayed. What matters here are the consequences.
Cate Blanchett’s performance is nothing short of remarkable; while others are playing with the press as Australian mascots, Blanchett just keeps on turning in insightful, intense and utterly believable work; without her complete understanding of her character here, the film could not have worked; it’s a true marvel of collaboration between an actor and a director. Ribisi is stoic and unemotional as Filippo, which is initially bemusing; however, his character is supposed to be this way, and one can’t fault the man for playing a stoic character stoically…! Most of the dialogue in this film is in Italian, despite the heavy American financial backing for the project - an admirable move, this greatly adds to the believability of what’s going on. Both Blanchett and Ribisi speak fluid Italian throughout, but Ribisi’s accent when his character speaks English is a little awry, sounding more Dublin than Turin.
Heaven is a haunting and undeniably moving film that plays out like a restrained, lyrical poem - a fitting tribute to Kieslowski, who may not have made the film quite this way, but whose essence is nevertheless in every frame. It’s also a triumph for Tom Tykwer, a director whose films just get better and better, just as they become increasingly - and unashamedly - more emotionally resonant. Australian director Paul Cox once referred to Kieslowski as “the last great poet of the cinema”. Tykwer may be a trainee haiku writer by comparison, but he’s weaving magic regardless.
And hopefully that will be enough for mainstream audiences who rent this disc based on the back cover blurb, which is hilariously inappropriate for the tone of the film, using exclamation marks like they were about to be banned as it tries to convince potential renters that this is a revenge thriller. “Philippa feels she has nothing to lose by taking divine justice into her own hands!” it gushes. “You’ll be mesmerised by Philippa’s transformation from grieving widow to wanted fugitive on a journey through retribution and redemption, innocence and crime!”
Ignore the box. Just play the disc and be transported.
A moment of understanding.
Heaven comes on a simple single-layered disc containing just the movie itself, nothing more. Picture quality is stunning, beautifully capturing the richness of colour, tone and contrast without ever throwing any technical problems in the face of the viewer. Transferred at 1.78:1 from a pristine source, the 16:9 enhanced transfer has been intelligently compressed for DVD, the bitrate sometimes reaching the limits of what’s possible on the format. With much of the dialogue in Italian, the bulk of the film is subtitled; thankfully, a DVD subtitle stream has been used rather than the burnt-in text seen on theatrical prints. This allows the many Italian-speaking viewers who will likely see the film to switch the subtitles off completely.
The single Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track provided is a great example of the use of the format in a restrained way. Don’t expect aural fireworks - that’s not the nature of the film, after all. Crystal-clear and exceptionally well crafted, the audio throughout is flawless. Most of the music score is drawn from the work of contemporary classical composer Arvo Part, which is immensely effective.
Unfortunately this retail release of this disc is identical to the rental version, offering nothing in the extras department. Tykwer’s developed a reputation for insightful audio commentary, and in the case of Heaven it would have made for an enlightening experience to hear his thoughts on his work.