Before his death in 1996, Krzysztof Kieslowski left behind a final work, Heaven, as part of a trilogy that he intended to see directed by a series of three different filmmakers. While he didn't live to see his dream become a reality, the production company that held the rights to Heaven tried to make the film in the manner Kieslowski intended. Those familiar with Kieslowski's work will probably agree that the he most likely would have been proud of Heaven's result.
How a Polish script, a German director, an Australian lead actress, and an Italian-American actor managed to concoct such an authentic vision of the deceased French filmmaker is beyond comprehension, but they accomplished it nonetheless. Heaven looks, feels, and sounds like a Kieslowski film with its limited dialogue and slow, deliberate pacing, but it's actually the product of Tom Tykwer, who directed the acclaimed films Run Lola Run, and The Princess and the Warrior. Tykwer gives credit to Kieslowski's writing, but the cinematography, the scenes, the sound design, and the performances are a result of his decisions.
Tykwer was the right choice for Heaven; in fact, he provides the film with much tighter pacing than any of Kieslowski's works. As a result, the film is more involving and more active. Its themes are also more relevant and understandable, but Heaven is still premeditated, conceptual, and vigilant.
Students of film will notice many major similarities and differences between Kieslowski's French trilogy, Three Colors: Red, White, and Blue, and Heaven. All the films offer a contemporary exploration of the modern world and its moral choices; they also provide many signals and clues, but no easy explanation for the dangerous and desperate choices made by the characters. Heaven, however, layers itself with more clarity and voice, while the other films often become lost in their hushed atmospheres of inactivity.
The film takes place in Turin, Italy, where Philippa (Cate Blanchett), a teacher, has had enough of watching her friends and family die from drug overdoses and is tired of the police ignoring her cries for help. As a final measure, she plants a bomb in the office of a major, albeit undetected, drug dealer. After an unlikely twist of fate, the bomb is moved and mistakenly kills three innocent people, and doesn't harm a hair on the dealer's arm.
Philippa is arrested, interrogated, and suspected of being a part of a terrorist organization. No one is willing to listen to her stories about the drug dealer, either. Soon, however, yet another twist of fate erupts. One of the police captors, the quiet Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), falls uncontrollably in love with Philippa and decides to help her in her quest to finish the justice she began. After he assists her escape, their journey becomes both a moral and physical maze with no clear exit.
Blanchett and Ribisi supply the film with the center of its moral dilemma. Their passionate, entrancing performances reflect certain guiltiness, while still inheriting a desperate innocence that justifies their actions. They force us as observers to get close to them in spite of their crimes, and we grow increasingly desperate with them as they try to find a way out of punishment.
The DVD features a handful of deleted scenes (none I'd consider a must-see), a making-of featurette, and a full-length commentary from Tykwer. Highly recommended disc.
Oh, the Madonna!