What Would You Risk For Love?

Heaven Poster
First things first, Cate Blanchett is some kind of goddess-actress. She sort of snuck up on me. Most of us saw her first in ELIZABETH and she was great in it, but I didn't really know who she was and what she was capable of. Would she be one of those old-school costume drama type actresses or could she do more? The answer is obvious now. She can seemingly do whatever type of role she wants with no restriction. She's beautiful without being breathtaking. And she has the most expressive eyes I can remember seeing in film.

She's been an American floozy in BANDITS, she was Queen ELIZABETH, and she's believable as a Russian gold-digger in THE MAN WHO CRIED. She's like a chameleon. She had to act in both Italian and English in this film and she did a great job with each language. And she has that pliable face.

She is paired in HEAVEN with Giovanni Ribisi who is no slouch himself. He is a little guy, but his face is so full of emotion that he seems weirdly powerful. His huge droopy eyes tell us everything that's going on in his mind, and perhaps, even his soul. He also does quite well with the Italian accent he's required to use, and to my untrained ears, when he speaks actual Italian, it sounds plausible to me. On the other hand, I'm the world's worst accent speaker, so maybe he sucked. Ribisi has gone between slacker comedy roles and deeper parts with the same confidence. We know from past films that he's funny, but in this role, nothing humorous happens.

The story was written by Krzysztof Kieslowski who is nothing short of a god-like figure in cinema. And he shouldn't be thought of as a hero only to movie snobs. Everyone, Vin Diesel fan, Sandler guy, Michael Bay aficionado, should see his THREE COLORS: BLUE, WHITE, AND RED which, if nothing else, star three of the most beautiful, exceptional actresses working in worldwide film today. His DECALOGUE is a series of ten one-hour films, each based upon one of the Ten Commandments. I must confess, I find the DECALOGUE a bit dry and have to be in a particular mood to watch them because they are so very dark.

Kieslowski often writes about fate and chance. In his earlier films, we've seen these two beliefs show themselves by a car accident, a smuggler in France, a ferryboat disaster, and thin ice on a skating pond. This film is no exception. There is chance in the elevator and chance in the interrogation room and both of these events change the way the characters live. Things happen to people in real life, real people react to these events, and this reaction causes other things to happen that perhaps wouldn't have. This is a convoluted way of saying that Kieslowski can somehow put in a story the real-life way that shit happens. We can't control it, we can only react to it. His coincidence level is at its highest in this film as our two leads share the same birthdate, and nearly the same name.

Kieslowski has been dead for a few years now, but this was apparently his final screenplay. It was directed by Tom Tywker of RUN LOLA RUN fame, making this a Polish screenplay, directed by a German, starring an Australian and an American, taking place in Italy. This film could not be more different in tone and intensity from RUN LOLA RUN and it is a credit to Tywker that he could handle both the techno pulse of LOLA and the much quieter character studies in HEAVEN.

Phillipa, a British English teacher living in Italy, has watched her students, and eventually her husband, succumb to drug abuse brought about by a well-respected businessman who has police backing. Her calls and letters to the authorities have gone unanswered and she finally has had enough and plants a bomb in the man's office with tragic results. This happens within the first few minutes, so I'm not being a dick about the spoilers. She is brought in to be interrogated, and acting as interpreter is a young policeman, who is the son of another well-respected cop.

While the inspectors are convinced she's part of some larger plot involving terrorists, Filippo looks into her eyes and believes what she is saying. He is instantly smitten, as are we in the audience. That she is right is never in doubt. That's not really what this film is about.

Both Ribisi and Blanchett say more with their eyes than a hundred words of dialogue could muster. When Blanchett is told of the results of her bombing, her soul seems to change before our eyes from disbelief to shock to understanding without so much as a word. A lot of actresses do the crying thing well, but that's not what I'm talking about here. Her face just tells us everything we need to know. It's actually a bit hard to watch. People shouldn't be so easy to read. You sort of want to avert your eyes.

Filippo, already blinded by love, sets about helping her to escape. Phillipa knows in her heart, and mentions out loud on several occasions, that she should be punished for any wrongdoing she may have done to the innocent. She isn't looking to be saved by Filippo, but he can be of help in her quest for justice. Again, as an audience, we aren't shown proof of what the man's drug supply has done. It is just understood.

There is tension and romance and beautiful scenery. There are a couple scenes with no sound, like the final one. There is an incredibly moving one with the leads in silhouette by a tree on a farm. It was beautifully shot from start to finish.

I'm not entirely sure that this film could have been as successful with two different leads. Ribisi's boyish naivete seems to come right out of his big brown eyes. And Blanchett perfectly captures a woman at the end of her rope who has nowhere to turn. They are fantastic together.

Phillipa.....Cate Blanchett [Elizabeth; The Talented Mr. Ripley; The Man Who Cried; Bandits; The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring]
Filippo.....Giovanni Ribisi [NYPD Blue; The X-Files; The Wonder Years; The Positively True Adventures Of The Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom; Phoebe's brother on Friends; That Thing You Do; Saving Private Ryan; The Virgin Suicides; Boiler Room; Gone In Sixty Seconds]
Cinematography by Frank Griebe [Lola Rennt]
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski [Dekalog; La Double Vie De Veronique; Trois Couleurs: Bleu; Trzy Kolory: Bialy; Trois Couleurs: Rouge] and Krzysztof Piesiewicz [Same as Kieslowski]
Directed by Tom Tykwer [Lola Rennt]

Camera 3 Theater, San Jose
96 minutes
USA / UK / France / Italy / Germany
Italian / English

This Was Written On November 7, 2002

Berlin Film Festival Nomination for 2002 Golden Bear for Tom Tykwer

7.00 Critical Consensus
7.50 Roger Ebert
6.25 James Berardinelli

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Most recent update: 11/7/02 2:49:12 PM
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