Heaven Movie Review
The first of several pivotal scenes in "Heaven" -- a stirring film about guilt, love, retribution and deliverance directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") from the last screenplay by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Red," "White" and "Blue") -- is impossible to watch without your heart jumping into your throat.
A beautiful woman smuggles a homemade bomb (a large C4 packet and a timer set for five minutes) into a Turin, Italy, office high-rise and slips it into an executive's trash can, managing to look nonchalant although on closer examination she is, in fact, frightened and tense but clearly resolute. She then leaves too quickly to notice the janitor enter the office just behind her and empty the trash into her cart.
As the woman hurries to a phone booth across the street, the janitor pushes the cart into a glass elevator already occupied by a father and his two young girls, and the doors close behind her.
As the woman calls the police to denounce them for ignoring her reports that the executive is a drug trafficker who killed her husband, the elevator resumes its rise up the side of the building. As the woman tells the police that the bomb will go off in 40 seconds, the film cuts back to the hallway where the janitor boarded the elevator and slowly creeps in on its cold, gray outer doors.
As the woman tells the police that her name is Philippa Piccard and that she's taken justice into her own hands, an explosion rocks the building, buckling those cold gray elevator doors to expose the empty glass shaft with daylight streaming through horrible debris and dust.
The scene is agonizingly potent, and so is the moment a few scenes later when Philippa, blindly accused of terrorism, is told her bomb "cost the lives of four people." Overwhelmed by a 200-ton rush of shock and guilt she collapses, shaking and crying in uncontrollable turmoil.
In fact, the rest of "Heaven" never lets go your emotions, taking them to surprising highs, sorrowful lows and hidden impulsive niches in what is a gorgeous, passionate, and at times uncommonly moving cinematic experience.
Played with haunted gravity by the luminous, spellbinding Cate Blanchett, Philippa soon comes to discover that the police have no record of her numerous reports and letters accusing her still-living target of being the mastermind behind a supply of street drugs responsible for the death of not only her husband, but several children at the school where she had been a teacher. Someone on the force has systematically removed all evidence -- even evidence at her home -- that would back up her confession of trying to kill only the executive. (Why the cops don't at least looking into her claim now that she's in custody and talking is never adequately explained.)
But in a peculiar twist of destiny, Philippa is helped to escape by a compassionate young police clerk (Giovanni Ribisi) -- named Filippo, by some cosmic coincidence -- who finds himself powerfully drawn to her and hoping they can run away together.
"Heaven" has a strange story arch that is simple and yet completely unpredictable after quiet, vulnerable, awkward, resourceful (and now haplessly in love) Filippo helps this woman plan the revenge she failed to get with her bombing gone awry.
"I don't want to escape punishment," she tells him. "I've killed four innocent people and I want to answer for that. But before I do, I want to kill him. That's the only reason I wanted to escape."
One of the film's few but significantly nagging problems stems from the fact that Philippa doesn't seem to hold herself to this pledge, and her reasons are not altogether clear. But perhaps it has to do with the spark that has occurred, much to her surprise, with her young savior -- which leads the two fugitives to flee for Italy's gorgeous countryside in rather startling cognito.
There's an engulfing stillness that permeates their relationship, and an unspoken intimacy played with gloriously simple grace and fleeting delicacy by Blanchett and Ribisi. Tykwer's sublimely, softly penetrating direction and exquisitely tranquil, often aerial, cinematography of both city and country (by his regular collaborator Frank Griebe) help keep "Heaven" focused on this tenderness and on the repercussions and psychological aftermath of Philippa's reckless actions.
I wish some elements of this film had been clearer, like when Filippo has hidden Philippa in the attic of the police station. I thought they'd left the building and was mighty confused for the next several scenes. I wish some of Philippa's behavior had made more sense to me. When they're on the run, why does she approach a friend who might help them at a public wedding reception where there are dozens of witnesses instead of waiting until the woman was alone?
But the beautiful, metaphorical finale left me enraptured and at a complete loss for words. That sensation alone was so profound that I haven't been able to shake it off in the 10 days since seeing the film.