There's been a lot of excitement about Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer's newest film Heaven for a few reasons. First, it's based on a script by the late Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski (the Three Colors trilogy); second, it marks Tykwer's English-language debut (although fully one-third of it is in Italian); and third, it stars Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi, two of the most photogenic and adventurous of young actors currently making films. Unfortunately, the result is more Euro-pudding than Euro-gold.
Kieslowki was always interested in the role of chance in daily life, a subject Tykwer has explored in both Wintersleepers and Run Lola Run. But whereas Lola showed that Tykwer was more a clever director than a profound one, the themes in Heaven cry out for the weighty philosophical edge that only Kieslowski could have brought to bear.
Blanchett plays Philippa, a distraught English teacher in Turin, Italy, who blames the overdose death of her husband and a number of her students on a local drug kingpin. When the bomb she constructs to kill the dealer-a well-connected businessman-goes off in an elevator instead of his office, four innocents, including two children, are killed.
Taken into custody, Philippa expresses extreme remorse for the deaths she has caused (a gut-wrenching scene, acted to the hilt by Blanchett), drawing the attention of junior officer Filippo (Ribisi) who is serving as her translator. He falls in love with her, helps her escape and the two of them hit the road, outlaws on the run.
The first 20 minutes of the film suggest that the Tykwer/Kieslowski partnership might bear fruit and, not surprisingly, it is the only part of the film that could be called Kieslowskian. It is here that some situations characteristic of Kieslowski come into play: Philippa is a good person driven to a desperate act by the exigencies of fate. That her plan-by chance-goes awry and results in the death of innocents brings up issues of morality and responsibility. But the moment Filippo starts to fall in love with Filippa, the wheels come off.
Tykwer tosses out the initial complexity in favour of a standard mismatched lovers-on-the-run story that is no different-save for the gorgeous Italian countryside-from most Hollywood fare with a similar plot line. While Filippa continues to be mortified by her act, we are expected to forgive her (like Filippo does) and root for her, a situation that I think Kieslowski would have made more ambiguous and thought provoking.
Tykwer does have a wonderful visual sense that is fully on display here. He eschews the frenetic camera movements of Run Lola Run (and the unreleased The Princess and the Warrior, another story of mismatched outsiders/lovers) in favour of a more gentle, gliding camera that is as controlled and beautiful as anything he's done. Still, one wishes the visual style were servicing a plot worthy of it.