REVIEW: Love on the Run; Tykwer Shines with "Heaven"
by Eddie Cockrell
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Eddie Cockrell reviewed "Heaven" during the 2002 Berlin Int'l. Film Festival. The film also begins screening today in Toronto.]
(indieWIRE/02.07.02) -- In contemporary Turin, a determined young British woman named Philippa (Cate Blanchett) plants an explosive device in the waste paper basket of an executive in a high-rise office building. She then phones the Italian carabinieri to tell them of the bomb, and gives her name in a calm, clear voice. Tragically, the trash is dumped just before detonation, and instead of eliminating the intended victim the bomb explodes in an elevator, killing a cleaning woman, a father and his two young children.
When Philippa is told of this during her initial interrogation, her grief is raw and genuine. Far from the terrorist the police suspect her of being, Philippa, a teacher, wanted revenge on the drug dealers whose wares forced one of her young students to commit suicide. To do this, she intended to kill the head of an electronics firm -- a front, Philippa says, for the drug operation.
Besides young officer Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), the police are buying none of Philippa's story. Increasingly smitten with the prisoner, Filippo meticulously plans for Philippa's escape, unaware that the police have ulterior motives of their own and convinced -- despite her growing despair -- that they belong together.
The second unproduced Krzysztof Kieslowski screenplay to be realized since the director's untimely death in 1996 (actor-director Jerzy Stuhr's whimsical "The Big Animal" was the other), "Heaven" (the first opening night selection under new head Dieter Kosslick) marks a pivotal step in the maturation of German director Tom Tykwer. Eschewing for the most part the visual and narrative pyrotechnics of "Run Lola Run" and "The Princess and the Warrior," Tykwer has harnessed Kieslowski's script -- at once meticulously detailed and philosophically slight -- to continue exploring his ongoing themes of love, fate, coincidence and misunderstanding. In its often unbearably serene visual tension, "Heaven" more closely resembles Tykwer's debut feature "Deadly Maria" and his masterpiece "Wintersleepers," movies that relished their fundamental conundrums and depended on the tragedy of blind love for narrative thrust.
"I immersed myself in the screenplay as if it were my own," the director is quoted as saying in the Berlin catalogue, and in truth the finished film balances the voices of both men in equal measure. Yet while such clockwork sequences as the pre-credit planting of the bomb are vintage Tykwer in their almost breathless excitement at the delineation of space as it relates to character turmoil (regular cinematographer Frank Griebe is essential to this vision), such quiet and emotional scenes as the clandestine meeting between the on-the-run couple and Filippo's grief-stricken father audaciously employ long silences and a sheer depth of emotion only hinted at in the director's previous work.
That the fundamentally shallow emotional depth of Kieslowski's script (written with long-time collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz and feeling like a project more sketched than completed) comes alive so vividly, particularly in the movie's weak and disjointed third act, is due in no small part to the dependably fearless performance of Blanchett and, in a major revelation, Ribisi. Previously known primarily for second-banana work in films and character actor comedy on television, Ribisi exhibits a new focus and gravity as the love-struck policeman whose feelings blind him to risk and give focus to his indefinable yearning.
Where "Heaven" goes astray is in its disinterest in the depths of Philippa's grief, preferring instead to follow the couple -- who don't properly introduce themselves to each other until nearly the halfway mark -- as they shave their heads in apparent solidarity while hiding from the authorities in a picturesque hilltop village. Still, while the second half of the film is merely absorbing, the setup in the early reels is nothing less than dazzling.
"Know your terrain," a helicopter pilot trainee is advised in the film's very first scene (a fundamental plot point that provides the film's sensational yet bittersweet emotional payoff), and with "Heaven" Tom Tykwer embraces Krzysztof Kieslowski's advice from beyond the grave. In the kind of tragic irony relished by the former and minted by the latter, the film shows how following blind instinct can often be the most eye-opening course of action in the pursuit of love and poetic justice.