this and Heaven too
"How high can I fly?" asks Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) during
a helicopter flight simulation at the start of Heaven,
the new film by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and
the Warrior). The meaning of the question does not become clear
until the end of the film.
Heaven was to be the first part of a trilogy by
the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, to be followed by Purgatory
and Hell. Kieslowski, however, died in 1996 and was unable to
complete it, so Tykwer was given his script to film. The picture merges
the highly technical, fast-paced direction of Tykwer with the slower-paced
sublime poetics of Kieslowski, and the result is a strange, somewhat
off-kilter, but deeply spiritual experience.
Turin, Philippa Paccard (Cate Blanchett), an English teacher, attempts
to get even with an Italian drug dealer who caused one of her students
to commit suicide. In trying to destroy what she perceives to be evil,
she plants a bomb in his office wastebasket but the plan is thwarted
and she inadvertently kills four innocent people in an elevator, while
the drug dealer is not harmed. Later when Philippa realizes the consequences
of her actions and breaks down sobbing during an interrogation, she
is comforted by the carabinieri Filippo (Ribisi), who is in the room
as her translator (she insists on testifying in English). Filippo is
deeply attracted to the defendant and believes in her innocence. Together
they formulate an escape plan.
film then shifts from a gritty reality-based drama to a dream-like poem
about lovers on the run. The countryside where they are hiding is bathed
in a glow that soaks everything in an ethereal light. There is little
dialogue, only hushed silence and passionate glances. "Heaven
is about silence," Tykwer told The New York Times. "But all the
silences have ten layers." Contrary to what one might expect in the
situation, the lovers are totally serene and resigned to their fate.
Looking like innocent children out on a Halloween night, Philippa and
Filippo identify with each other by shaving their heads and wearing
cinematography is wondrous. One of the most beautiful scenes is a faraway
shot of the horizon and two shadowy figures coming together in silhouette
next to a huge tree. The radiance of Blanchett and the beatific look
of love on the face of Ribisi are unforgettable.
raises the issue of ends and means - does a worthy end justify unacceptable
means? It explores the answer in what is essentially an allegory about
responsibility, transformation, and transcendence. On the surface, Kieslowski
seems to be telling us that we are at the mercy of a capricious universe.
We try to do good and we end up doing wrong. We have excellent plans
but do not foresee the consequences. Underneath this, however, is Kieslowski's
vision that everything happens for a purpose, one that only God is aware
of. Some of us may commit acts that are reprehensible, despite worthy
motives - yet all of us can ultimately achieve transformation.
film," says Tykwer, "is about redemption, basically the concept
that love can help us find our true perspectives and our true meanings.
This is not about God being somewhere else, but in ourselves and what
a gift that is." In an ending that is transforming for both the characters
and the viewer, the two lovers take responsibility for their actions
and surrender, in Samuel Beckett's phrase, to "the benign indifference
of the universe." The meaning of the opening helicopter scene then becomes
clear in an epiphany of grace.
Devil (Laird Cregar), elegantly attired in a double-breasted suit, tells
recently deceased Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) politely to get the hell
out of his place of business. Henry insists he deserves to be "down"
there but Big D thinks otherwise. This gives Henry the opportunity to
tell his life story and try to convince dandy D to let him stay, and
what a story it is.
In Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy, Heaven Can Wait (1943),
the flashback tale of Henry's life and loves is told with charm and
flourish. Death and the afterlife serve merely as a backdrop. Shot in
brilliant Technicolor, the film is set in New York at the turn of the
last century. Henry first wins Martha (Gene Tierney) by sweeping her
off her feet after a chance meeting at a bookstore (she wants to buy
a book called "How To Make Your Husband Happy"). Ably abetted by Grandpa
Hugo Van Cleve (Charles Coburn), he proceeds to steal her away in the
middle of the night from her uptight fiancée, cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn).
whose quiet wit and good humor never falters, really admires Henry and
helps him to stay on track, even helping him, when she runs away after
ten years of marriage, to find her and rescue her from her well-to-do
parents. Why did she leave? It seems that Henry was a bit of a rogue
and wasn't always faithful to his wife. He was also fairly loose with
his money. Yet, how can you dislike Henry? He is so charming, so elegant,
(and so giving of his affections to young ladies) and Gene Tierney has
never looked so glamorous.
I had to cringe at some of the old-style racial stereotyping, it really
wasn't unexpected for the time, and I found this film to be thoroughly
delightful. There are really no unlikable characters here - Lubitsch
accepts people's foibles as natural and makes them endearing. It all
adds up to two hours of pleasure.
©2002 Howard Schumann