Not Quite Heavenly
Heaven begins with an explosion. A woman wrapped in tension and fuelled by purpose marches into an office block, puts a bomb in an important man's wastebasket and marches out again. But the plan goes wrong. A cleaning lady empties the guy's bin right after the bomber leaves, then takes her trolley to the elevator, where a civilian and his daughter are riding. The wrong people ar killed The target goes unhurt.
Philippa Paccard (Cate Blanchett), the woman we met in the opening scene, is arrested. She's a British schoolteacher living in the Italian city of Turin. She swears that the businessman in the office is a high-powered drug dealer, that she wrote to police begging for action on countless occasions, and that she was at the end of her rope. The cops keep asking the same questions: "Why do you insist your wrote letters? Who was your real target? Who do you work for?"
The character played by Blanchett insists on speaking to the police in English. It is her right, she protests. She wants the command of her native tongue to communicate her devastation over seeing family and students trashed by hard drugs and her frustration at bureaucratic impotence. The policeman acting as translator, played by Govanni Ribisi, is touched; he resolves to help free his prisoner.
Up to this point, and during the escape, Heaven is a film of style, grace and power. Blanchett and Ribisi are actors who can suggest strong emotion through styles of behaviour and moments of silence, and we're fascinated by how Blanchett, who seems respectable and virtuous enough, got driven to the point she did. It's also nice to realize that while the getaway process does not finish in the first five minutes, it is happening at a pace that will not allow it to be the subject of the movie. We know we're going to see more than the clichéd formation of a guard-prisoner bond and a breakout action sequence.
On the other hand, Heaven never really does figure out where to go. I wanted the film to challenge me, perhaps by probing into the secrets and sadnesses of the Blanchett character's heart. Instead, Blanchett goes on a final mission, then promises to eventually turn herself in, and then we see her and Ribisi kiss, shave their heads and wander around in the countryside for forty-five minutes. At the end of it all, the camera pans up to the sky, suggesting that -- wow! -- this last moment of peace before surrender is some kind of heaven. We're supposed to leave the cinema raving breathlessly about the poetic significance of the title.
All of this is well-filmed, and individual sequences play fine. The director, Tom Tykwer, has a thing for showing sympathetic people, technically criminals, finding temporary moments of solace from ther pursuers; he also made Run Lola Run and Princess and the Warrior. The screenplay was one of the last to be written by Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996), who was fond of long, dreamy shots that emphasized the intimate feelings of individual moments, especially in his famous "Three Colors" trilogy. Heaven brings the filmmakers' sensibilities together.
But I dunno. The set-up suggests a backstory of angry details, and that is abandoned so we can get arty shots of outlaw lovers and a final scene that, while pretty, seems calculated. Tykwer's destination is engaging, but he leaves our initial reason for watching unresolved. This is a good film that doesn't quite feel complete.
(Released by Miramax and rated "R" for a scene of sexuality.)
Review also posted on www.ukcritic.com.