Heaven, the new film by extraordinary German director Tom Tykwer ('Run Lola Run'), explores the vivid nature of crime, punishment, and oddly enough infatuations, and tries to, rather unsuccessfully, bind these themes in a twist of fate, that, upon later, inspection seems clumsily contrived.
In the opening scene we are introduced to Phillipa Paccard (Cate Blanchett), an English expatriate working as a teacher in Italy, putting together a home made close proximity bomb, intended to kill only one person in a high rise office building. We know this because after Paccard has placed the bomb in the office of her intended victim, she takes great care to make sure no one else is within range of it when it goes off. She also has no intention of getting away with her act, since she walks out of the building only to call up the Italian police and let them know who she is what she has done.
In a twist of fate convenient for the screenplay, the bomb does goes off, but doesn't kill the man she had targeted but instead finds other innocents as its victims. Soon Phillipa is behind bars at the office of the Carabinieri (the Italian military and national police) for a murder she did not intend, but did commit. When she is eventually brought in front of the superiors at the Carabinieri for interrogation purposes, she refuses to speak in Italian, which we have already been shown in an earlier scene, she speaks fluently. This sets up an interesting predicament whereby the stenographer Fillipo (a very dole-eyed Giovanni Ribisi), agrees to be her translator as well, since he has ample knowledge of the English language.
Eventually we find out, through the interrogation proceedings, that the man Blanchett's character intended to kill was responsible for the death of her husband, through drug overdose and has now found a new market in the form of young children at the school where she teaches. The movie wisely eschews any sentiment with regard to the war against drugs and is not a deliberating movie about its effects either. What follows is a tale of revenge, escape and finding love in the most uncertain of places and situations. It's interesting to see the momentum between the two leads build, and we feel glad because we know where it is headed and most of all, because it is done so well.
Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett, who have worked together earlier in Sam Raimi's 'The Gift', show what great rapport they have together. Because no one understands what she is saying, except Fillipo, we assume no one empathizes with her either. Indeed Fillipo takes this understanding to the extreme when he confesses to his father, who himself is also an officer at the Carabinieri, that he has fallen in love with Phillipa. As strange as it sounds, everything is kept under the curtain of plausibility, until the final act, which I shall discuss shortly. Performance wise both Ribisi and Blanchett are in top form.
However it is Ribisi here who is all the more surprising revealing a greater depth by taking on a part that is mostly in Italian. In fact almost three fifths of the movies lines are in Italian, which gives it the concentrated aura of a foreign film, with familiar faces. But don't let that put you off. Ribisi comes across as a person living in another more serene world, because this world doesn't suit his tastes. He speaks little, except when the situation calls for it, and often is lost deep in thought, contemplating. He stares at Blanchett, and watches her every movement carefully. Blanchett plays Phillipa as a person who believes in cause and consequences and doesn't want to escape punishment because she feels responsible for the crime that she committed. She starts out as a person caught in the abyss of hopelessness, and we witness her descent even further. A character such as this is seldom seen in films these days, and that is what seems so fresh about the screenplay.
The direction by Tom Tykwer is splendid in its innovation. The film is beautifully shot and moves with a pleasant momentum, never seeming to rush to let us know what happens next. Great views and vistas of the various Italian destinations are shown in stunningly detailed photography. Its deliberate pacing reminded me of another well directed movie from earlier this year 'Monsters Ball', in fact both share the same atmosphere of quite clairvoyance. However it's the last act that leaves one desiring more. It happens quite abruptly which is strange given the nature of films preceding parts. Nothing can be more frustrating than a story half told and finished off at its most intense moments. In truth the ending isn't deserving of 'heaven'. That is the impression that I got after everything was over. At barely 100 minutes, a lot more could have been done to make clearer what was intended at the end. It simply left me both puzzled and asking for more, and since this wasn't intended as a thriller with a franchise of sequels to follow, that cannot be considered a compliment. - Faizan Rashid