But "Heaven" is not the kind of introduction that leaves us clamoring for more - whereas Kie?lowski's "Blue" was a gorgeously melancholic prelude to a trilogy of emotive masterpieces, "Heaven" bears the feeling of a half-planned experiment that rides high on mood and performance, struggling in its impact due to a fundamental lack of plot. Its cathexis is virile. But its storyline is contrived at best, hollow at worst, and the preposterous relationship portrayed between its leading characters inspires more mystification than empathy.
"Heaven's" misconceptions, though, have nothing to do with its actors, who manage to emote persuasively in a movie that belittles them. It stars Cate Blanchett as Philippa, a British schoolteacher in Italy whose inherent good nature has been aggravated by the recent death of her husband. Knowing that it is the result of dealings with a local, powerful drug dealer - many of her young students have met similarly dire fates - Philippa has since done everything she can to kickstart a police investigation in the matter. But it's been a year of letters and calls to the government without any response; the law could be doing something, but are blatantly ignoring the truth. Philippa suspects they could be a part of the problem, too.
Distraught and unsure of what else to do, she turns to the drastic and plants a bomb in the high rise office of the dealer, whose entrepreneurial status has made him basically impervious to her accusations. But the plan goes awry when the explosion instead kills a quartet of innocents, leaving the predator unhurt and Philippa accused of murder and assumed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization. During the interrogation process, though, she catches the eye of Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi), a young officer/translator who sympathizes with her claims.
From there does "Heaven" lose its potential, surrendering to the stakes of a preposterous romance and morphing into a political thriller that doesn't have the hubris to lead us to a satisfyingly ferocious conclusion. In the ambit of a traditional movie, it would be unafraid to more thoroughly explore the issues of governmental corruption it so inauthentically attempts to characterize; it would also potentially ditch the hurried and incredulous romantic angle.
But it's pretentious arthouse that I don't much care for and don't much care to take the time to praise. It likes itself more than it likes its audience, and without Kie?lowski's textured directorial eye to make it something other than arty fluff, I'd prefer you swim in the warm, exhilarating waters of his "Three Colors" trilogy than fly up to his supposed heaven. Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") does his best replacing Kie?lowski in the director's chair, and Blanchett is an impressive successor to the Irene Jacob, Juliette Binoche type. But what a bother it is to walk through the inferior when the superior is as easy to access.
Well, the film is so flat that neither its soundtrack nor Frank Griebe's cinematography is allowed to truly thrive, with a mostly unoriginal score being particularly underplayed in this largely quiet affair, which, upon either utilizing pieces by such minimalist classical virtuosos as Arvo Pärt, Marius Ruhland and Tom Tykwer himself, or finding striking, maybe even immersive highlights in visual style, is rather haunting. There are technically beautiful aspects in the film, and if they do find an opportunity to thrive, then it is provided by Tom Tykwer, who, as director, takes an intensely subtle approach that, because of the shortcomings in material, is more tedious than anything, but is almost piercing when it does, in fact, find a dramatic height to draw upon. Something about this film is reflective of Tykwer's capabilities as a dramatic storyteller, because if there is any shred of effectiveness in this drama, then it is encompassed in Tykwer's tasteful, if often tedious subtlety, which seems to have its heart set on salvaging some degree of life from this story. The telling of this tale is so misguided that the story's value is all but obscured, while its great deal of conceptual thinness goes fiercely stressed, but there is something to admire in this subject matter, and it's not in the melodramatic and minimalist plot, or in the thin and barely buyable characterization, but in worthy themes that explore upholding justice in the most brutal of manners, confronting terrible mistakes, and doing right by the heart when what you once believed in has its image besmirched. These are all human themes in a developmentally flimsy character piece, and if there are sold, then it is either in the aforementioned highlights in Tywker's thoughtful storytelling, or in a strong cast that has its standout moments, most of which are by the subtle and graceful Giovanni Ribisi who is surprisingly convincing with both an Italian accent and a sense change in views on justice, and by a beautiful Cate Blanchett, whose remarkable emotional range presents both piercing delicacy and devastating intensity in order to sell the Philippa character's passion, frustration and guilt. The tools to make a very powerful character study are there, and, outside of the consistently strong acting, they're all dulled down by some sort of artistic misguidance that only grows worse as things progress, but when there is, in fact, focus in the vision of this drama, it begets some degree of effectiveness. For a long time, the film is effective, and decent, and then there comes a point where the conceptual intrigue, tasteful artistry and direction, and inspired acting fail to truly pull through the issues, which grow clearer and clearer, but never actually abate.
Somewhat refreshing in its lack of certainly regarding whether it is to be a grounded drama or, as Paul Matwychuk of Canada's "Vue Weekly" perfectly put it, "arthouse hoakum", the film is rather conventional, on either extreme of the storytelling style spectrum it jars through, whether it be falling into the usual arthouse pseudo-abstractionism whose basic nature is tedious enough without the familiarity, or conforming to more accessible dramatics so deeply that it succumbs to histrionic, which gradually grow a little more prominent, until a romantic angle is forced in, made somewhat subtle only by the overt subtlety that defines and ultimately ruins this melodrama. Only so much ever truly sells in this film whose dramatic heights ride on the backs of questionable character motivations that one might be able to get a firmer grip on if it wasn't for the expository issues, which find characterization undercooked, like subtle shifts in focus whose transitions aren't fleshed out enough to feel truly organic in the context of plotting focus. The angles gradually begin to converge, thus, focal inconsistency is not as big of an issue as the underdevelopment that, as irony would have it, only continues to intensify as the plot progresses, taking twists and turns that seem to come in from out of the left field, barely, if at all motivated enough to be convincing, or able to sell a sense of rising action. There's a dreadfully cruel irony in Krzysztof Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's script, because as the plot thickens in concept, the interpretive storytelling only grows thinner, although it's not as though the plot ever thickens to a tremendously juicy extent, for what histrionics there are go forced in as some desperate attempt at carrying this narrative beyond meticulous, ultimately thinly executed meditations on dialogue and minimalist set pieces that, while thematically important, mostly wield only so much substance, yet are still so aimless so often. The extremes in the meanderings might not so much be the fault of this unfocused story concept, as much as it might be the fault of Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's exacerbating all of the aimlessness through monotonously draggy scripting that couples with the considerable thinness in expository depth in order to craft a seemingly brief runtime of under 100 minutes whose lack of direction results in a glacial pacing. Whether it be a deliberate exercise in artistic indulgence or whatever, this film is draggy something awful in its take on an already thin and questionable story, and that places a serious threat on the engagement value of this film that, well, could have easily been overpowered if it wasn't for the fact that much more often than not, the film is terribly boring, its stylistic heights being rare, and its thoughtful directorial effectiveness being even rarer, due to there being so little material for Tom Tykwer to draw upon with his meditative direction, which grows more and more tedious, and tries one's patience more and more, until the final product loses the last bit of spark that could have saved it. The film has potential, opening with an excessively meandering, but somewhat gripping hook, then leading into a body that, because of the thematic intrigue, dramatic heights and strong acting, is so decent for so long that the final product comes close to transcending mediocrity, but somewhere along the way, it just becomes near-impossible to forgive this misguided drama, whose shortage of true depth and resonance only grows greater with the artistic buffoonery of a script that files down patience about as much as it files down direction, and is accompanied by a tedious atmosphere, until the final product ever so slightly, but nonetheless decidedly succumbs to mediocrity, at best.
All in all, there are few tasteful highlights in the scoring, cinematography and direction to do some sort of justice to valuable human themes that best emulated through a respectable cast that Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi lead with sharpness, so there is a fair bit to admire here, almost to the point of maintaining decency that is ultimately lost somewhere along the onslaught of conventions, histrionics, narrative thinness, lack of expository and plot focus, and tedious atmospheric dryness that barely, but decidedly secures Tom Tykwer's "Heaven" as a sometimes promising, but ultimately flat, hopelessly misguided arthouse drama.
2.25/5 - Mediocre
"What Would You Risk For Love?"
Heaven is a tough film to figure out for me. It's unique for sure, with major events happening at times you wouldn't expect them to. I never was able to fall in love with it, although I did thoroughly enjoy the whole film. It's wonderfully shot, the score is fantastic, and Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi are bother terrific.
A woman, Philippa, is a teacher living in Italy who recently lost her husband to a drug overdose. She gets fed up with law enforcement's lack of care her information about the drug dealer whose pushing large amount of drugs. So she decides to kill him. She tries to kill him with a bomb, but things don't go as planned and four innocent people die, while the drug kingpin still lives. To complicate things more, she is detained for the bombing.
This isn't a movie that really appeals to me too much, but I was able to find quite a bit I liked and was able to take away from the film. I don't believe this to be a masterpiece or anything like that, but it is worth a viewing. If only for Care Blanchett, it deserves a look.