Heaven April 24, 2016
Heaven was supposed to be a part of something bigger. It was planned to be the beginning of an ambitious trilogy written and directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, whose Three Colors trio of the mid-1990s has been endlessly hailed by film snobs as some of the finest movies ever made. Heaven, predictably, would be followed by Hell and Purgatory. But before such high concept plans could be properly executed, Kieślowski died in 1996 after unsuccessful open-heart surgery. He left behind screenplays for Heaven and Hell, but it will never be known how he would have directed the individual pieces of material himself, or how Purgatory, never to see the light of day, would have compared to its predecessors.
But Heaven is not the kind of introduction that leaves us clamoring for more — whereas Kieślowski’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 Kieślowski’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 Kieślowski 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