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Friday, October 18, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

The story behind 'Heaven' is better than the movie

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review


**
"Heaven," with Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Remo Girone, Mattia Sbragia, Stefania Rocca. Directed by Tom Tykwer, from a screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. 96 minutes. Rated R for a scene of sexuality. In Italian and English, with English subtitles where necessary. Uptown, Metro.

As is too often the case, the story behind "Heaven," disappointingly, turns out to be more interesting than the film itself.

The great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski (best known for his trilogy "Red," "White," and "Blue" and the 10-film series "Dekalog/The Ten Commandments"), who died in 1996, left behind the screenplay to "Heaven," co-written with his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz.

Kieslowski, the story goes, had intended "Heaven" as the start of a new trilogy ("Hell" and "Purgatory" would be the other films), and meant for it to be directed by a young filmmaker.

Enter, several years later, Tom Tykwer , the up-and-coming German writer/director of the zippy 1998 thriller "Run Lola Run."

And while Tykwer brings some excitement and pace to the film's early scenes (a woman prepares to ignite a bomb; we feel its ticking, but don't hear it), the story remains so minimal that, ultimately, it just isn't there.

Cate Blanchett, looking appropriately thin and pale, plays Philippa, an Englishwoman living in Italy who's grieved and furious about the drug-related death of her husband.

After her bomb, intended to target a dealer, mistakenly kills innocent bystanders, she is arrested — and catches the eye of an officer (Giovanni Ribisi, very young and upright).

The two fall in love, or something resembling it, and much of the movie is devoted to their plotting and eventual flight.

Make no mistake, there's beauty here — cinematographer Frank Griebe contributes some gorgeous, soaring shots that seem to be captured from heaven itself.

But when actors as talented as Blanchett and Ribisi can't make us understand why they're in love, or what they're doing exactly, something's wrong.

Is the minimalist costuming and identical head-shaving supposed to indicate to us that they're merging into one? But they look silly and conspicuous for lovers on the lam — almost like androgynous twin aliens.

And when the young officer introduces Philippa to his father (who's very aware that she's an escaped convict), presenting her as if she's just another girlfriend, it's just puzzling.

What's he thinking? Why would he introduce her so casually?

Quiet and stark, "Heaven" is an intriguing exercise in style, but could have been so much more.

Perhaps Tykwer wasn't the best choice for this material. A minimalist screenplay doesn't need to result in an unsatisfying movie; it just needs a director who can draw out nuances from his actors and sketch in what's unsaid. That's no easy feat, particularly for someone still learning his craft.

Kieslowski may well have had the key to this movie in his head when he wrote the screenplay — knowing just what to do between the lines to find the story.

Sadly, too much of this "Heaven" is up in movie heaven with him.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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