Sunday, August 27, 2006
HEAVEN (2002, Germany, Tom Tykwer, wr Kieslowski / Pieskowicz)
I've done a lot of damage. And really stupid, supid things. Four people died because of me and I can't live with that. I'll never be able to. I shot a defenseless person, which you know. But what you don't know is, I've ceased to believe. In sense. In justice. In life.
A young woman prepares a bomb, then takes it into an office tower. She places it in a wastebasket, then hurries out of the building. We know, more or less, who she is. The word "terrorist" comes readily to mind, and though we don't know her specific political agenda or who her target might be, it's clear enough what she is.
Except this is a screenplay by Krytofs Kieslowski and Pieskowicz – co-creators of THE DECALOGUE and all three COLORS – and things won't be as simple as they seem. Or things may be exactly as they seem, and it's our judgements that will prove to be too simple; hasty, shallow, under-informed. When Philippa learns of the unintended consequences of her act (in a Cate Blanchett performance of immense power and vulnerability), our assumptions and easy labels begin quickly to erode.
At the time of his early death at 55 years old, Kieslowski was at work developing another trilogy; HEAVEN, HELL and PURGATORY. Whether we'll ever get to see the last two thirds of the project is uncertain, but the pairing of director Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN, THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR) and the first of the series was inspired. He has a tremendous eye, and continues the visual appeal which distinguished Kieslowski's French films from the drearier (though aesthetically strong) images of earlier DECALOGUE: gorgeous geometric fly-over shots of Turin, striking contrasts between city and country, a beautifully filmed and brilliantly edited final sequence, or an especially memorable and tension-filled shot just before the detonation, as Philppa descends an escalator right to left across the screen as a right-frame elevator ascends heavenward (in a film that's all about the sky: yearning and flight and ascension.)
There are other important affinities. Tykwer sums up his fascinations as "love, fate, freewill" – recurring themes for the Krzysztofs – and HEAVEN plays out those themes with a pair of star-matched lovers on the run, defying law and circumstance, just as in his previous two films. Indeed, the twinning of the lovers in PRINCESS ("I had a dream. We were brother/sister, father/mother, husband/wife") is echoed in Philippa and Filippo, both born May 23 (TT's birthday), who grow ever more alike as the film moves toward its conclusion. Nor is the doppel motif foreign to the screenwriters – think DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, for instance. There's the same tension between the law and the messiness of human life that ran through THE DECALOGUE, a fascination with technology, scenes of secular confession, a similar sense of the compromised authority of the state.
For all the Tykwer touches, he stays utterly true to Kieslowski's vision. The anti-LOLA deliberateness of pace goes way beyond even PRINCESS + WARRIOR, and while both of these deeply moral artists are fascinated with situations where received moral ideas are problematic, this film's approach is wisdom not whiz-kid, owing more to the contemplative thoughtfulness of the older Czech than to the dazzling brilliance of the younger German.
Which is to take nothing away from Tykwer, who is not only one of the most inventive directors of our time, but one of the most substantial. This pairing of master screenwriters and wunderkind director is truly a gift – a match made in heaven.
Available at Videomatica