Review

Heaven, based on a screenplay by the late great Polish filmmaker Krystof Kieslowski (Three Colours, The Decalogue), is a film by German wunderkind Tom Tykwer. Heaven’s opening sequence is also its best. When the radiant Cate Blanchett, playing Philippa, an English teacher living in Italy who, frustrated that the police seem to be ignoring her dozens of complaints about the nefarious deeds of a local businessman cum drug dealer, decides to take the law into her own hands, she plants a bomb in his wastebasket, calls the man’s secretary out of the room, leaves the building, and while the bomb ticks down to blastoff, calls the police and informs them of her deed. Assuming that when the bomb goes off in five minutes, the evildoer will be punished for his deeds. Philippa returns home to await arrest. Unfortunately, all does not work out as planned, and when four innocents are killed, the film’s metaphysical stage, where Philippa will have to struggle with her failure, is set. The scene is precisely modulated in true Hitchcockian fashion, as the suspense, which develops when we are fully aware of the dangers surrounding the characters who remain blissfully ignorant of them, becomes nearly unbearable as it climbs to its explosive climax.

Crafted by the same man who brought us the frenetically kinetic Run Lola Run, Heaven is, in many ways, Tykwer’s anti-Lola. While Run Lola Run is all about the chaotic race that is contemporary life, Heaven is a meditative retreat from it. Just as Run Lola Run alerts us to the necessity of making of hasty decisions in a world spinning rapidly out of control, Heaven talks about taking responsibility for every decision, and contemplating the metaphysical consequences of every action. What Heaven does best is display Tykwer’s talent for matching image to sound, and whereas Run Lola Runis driven by a throbbing urban techno-beat, Heaven is layered with angelic orchestral arrangements that underscore the film’s meditative qualities.

The reason that the film, which begins so promisingly, is not a rousing success, however, is that Tykwer has problems with syrupy pacing. The story is constantly bogged down in moments that do not serve the development of character or theme. It is one thing to cultivate a meditative mood, another to provoke boredom, and Tykwer veers dangerously closer to the latter at times when he appears to be aiming for the former. Kieslowski knew the difference, and while his movies provoke thought, rarely do they draw attention to the fact that they’re asking you to dwell on their inherent ideas.

The performances in the film, particularly the two leads, Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi, who plays the young police officer who falls in love with Philippa, are without flaw. Their search for redemption makes for a touching love story, mainly because this pair of actors compellingly taps into a spiritual aspect of their suffering. When they shave their heads, like monastic penitents, Tykwer’s bold referencing of another story of martyrdom, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s magnificent The Passion of Joan of Arc may not be completely earned, considering the flaws in Tykwer’s storytelling, but it is nonetheless effective. Allusions to Dreyer’s Joan of Arc seems to be de rigeur these days. First, we had Samantha Morton in Spielberg’s Minority Report, all shorn and martyr-like, and now we have not one, but two mournful neo-Joans appearing in Heaven’s mid-stream. We live, as Confucius might note, in interesting times where, these two timely 2002 releases imply, the war on terrorism may lead us to treat our friends like the enemies, and thereby create martyrs out of naifs.


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