Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Remo Girone, Stefania Rocca, Alessandro Sperduti, Mattia Sbragia, Alberto Di Stasio, Giovanni Vettorazzo, Gianfranco Barra, Vincenzo Ricotta, Mauro Marino
Written by: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzysztof Kieslowski
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality
Language: English, Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 97
Date: 06/02/2002

Heaven (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

They're No Angels

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alfred Hitchcock once explained his theory of suspense. He said if a movie has two men sitting at a desk, talking, when a bomb suddenly goes off, that elicits a one-second shock.

But if a ticking bomb underneath the desk is shown, the audience will scream, "Get out! There's a bomb!"

Hitch would have been proud of the first 10 minutes of Tom Tykwer's Heaven, which is based on a screenplay by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and his late, great writing partner, director Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue and the Three Colors trilogy).

In the film, Englishwoman Philippa (Cate Blanchett) enters an office building in Italy and plants a bomb in a trash pail, hoping to kill a businessman who chats on a phone nearby. But a cleaning lady picks up the trash and carries it into an elevator, which is occupied by a man and his two small daughters. (At this point, I was gripping my seat cushion, and my nails were beginning to turn white.)

Philippa is caught because she had called the man and told him about the bomb, thinking he'd soon be dead. She's hauled in for questioning, and an Italian stenographer, Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), agrees to act as a translator when she demands to speak English. Filippo, who begins to feel a bond with Philippa arranges for her escape.

The rest of the film details their almost dreamlike odyssey as they scoot around the country, eerily aware of their imminent capture yet trying to stretch their time together.

That's how the bulk of Heaven feels: like time stretched out.

On the surface, it's a lovers-on-the-run crime flick, but it has a lot in common with Piesiewicz's and Kieslowski's earlier work, films like The Double Life of Veronique. Fillippo and Philippa have similar names, they they both shave their heads and wear matching white T-shirts and blue jeans.

Without offering answers, the filmmakers suggest that two lost souls have found each other, if only for a moment.

Heaven begins and ends with curious references to helicopters and the question of how high one can fly. It's a stretch, but I see the connection between two linked souls torn apart by the law (and the real world) and the act of flying -- how machinery limits humans from getting to a higher spiritual place.

But how this fits in with the idea of "heaven" is beyond me. Before Kieslowski passed away in 1996, he and Piesiewicz discussed making a trilogy of films based on heaven, hell and purgatory; this film might represent the first of those. (Yet it's as detached from the idea of heaven as certain episodes of The Decalogue -- the 10 movies based on the Ten Commandments -- are from their respective commandments.)

Interestingly, Heaven represents an international filmmaking project. The director is German, the screenwriters are Polish, Blanchett is Australian and Ribisi is American, though he has a thoroughly Italian name. A good chunk of dialogue is in Italian. One producer, Sidney Pollack, is American, and another, Anthony Minghella, is British. And French money reportedly helped finance the film.

Tykwer remains a fascinating filmmaker, though he's no longer interested in re-creating the speed and single-mindedness of Run Lola Run. Heaven is more like his slower, more multi-layered films, Winter Sleepers and The Princess and the Warrior.

I still haven't uncovered all of Heaven's mysteries. And I didn't even mind that the rest of the film lacked the intensity of the first 10 minutes. This shift into slow gear seemed gradual, and entirely appropriate.

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