starring Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Remo Girone, Stefania Rocca
screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz
directed by Tom Tykwer
by Walter Chaw There is something of the alchemical when two disparate talents discover that their collaboration is inspired. It is an inkling of the excitement at the promise of A.I. with Kubrick's misanthropy and Spielberg's cult of childhood--or the pop-cultural satisfaction embedded in the narrative genius of Stephen King mixing easily with the stiff overwriting of Peter Straub. Heaven is the product of a screenplay by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski (and writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz) and surprisingly sedate direction by previously hyperactive wunderkind director Tom Tykwer. The result is another of Tykwer's unpredictable romances blending with another of Kieslowski's carefully metered, studiously non-didactic discussions of morality and consequence. The result of their union is often amazing.
Philippa (Cate Blanchett) is a terrorist when we first meet her, crafting a bomb and placing it in the office of a businessman on a telephone. A teacher beloved by her young students, once Philippa's caught for her crime, she's a murderer who has accidentally killed four people including two children. Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) is an Italian carbaneri--a translator who aids in the interrogation of Philippa and, suddenly, irrevocably, falls in love with her. His love is not as hopeless as it first seems, and the progression of their relationship proceeds on pace with the unravelling of the minor mystery of the half steps a decent person takes on the road of doom and destiny.
Heaven is possessed of a wondrous patience. Without the need for ultimate resolutions and platitudes, it explores the intricacies of decency in a landscape littered with nuance and outrageous mishap. Moral paradoxes abound in Kieslowski's work, dark ironies that play with the weight of fable while the lucky intersection of Tykwer's neo-Tarantino sensibility ground them with a lovely stylistic anchor. The visual jitters of Tykwer's Run Lola Run and The Princess and The Warrior evened by a dead master's steady hand, Heaven features a role and a film at last worthy of Cate Blanchett's brilliance. Hers is a performance of surpassing detail and craft; knowing enough to let Blanchett occupy the spotlight, Ribisi--more a dispenser of quirks than an actor--offers his most reserved and, consequently, most complementary turn. Note a scene in which a stricken Blanchett falls to the floor to wake holding the hand of Ribisi--it is a masterstroke of understatement and effect.
Heaven is another love story in 2002's remarkable procession of sweeping pictures that have reinvigorated the romance genre, which has been dominated for too long by such dim lights as the Ephron sisters and Julia Roberts. Tykwer takes his lovers on a road never travelled: an allegorical highway that leads to a gold back-lit hill owned by a tree and the silhouettes of two people who have merged long before they've made love. A farewell to a father, a confession to a friend, Heaven is about the madness of love in a temporary world and the futility of good intentions in a universe that revolves in its own inscrutable circle. Originally published: October 25, 2002.