April 10, 2003

Blessed Silence

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Certain movies you see are forgettable. Walking out of the theatre a few minutes later, the feeling of them leaves you before you reach your car. Other movies stay with you. You sit through it until the soundtrack ends and the lights come up, reluctant to put on your coat until you hear the rattle of the projector behind you. Going outside, eyes adjusting, things look slightly different. The angle of the light, the familiarity of places you just walked through — all of it seems a little skewed.

And then you try to put words to the experience. I’m not one of those people who feel the need to discuss every film afterwards, trying to impart whatever little insight I have on it. Certain films persist in the imagination, however. Their images and emotions recur for a few days, cyclically returning to you of their own volition.

Heaven is one of those extraordinary films. It’s moving and confusing, an utterly beautiful synthesis. German director Tom Tykwer breaks with the more manic pace of his earlier films (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior) under the influence of producer Anthony Minghella. Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi provide outstanding performances. The screenplay was the last written by Krzysztof Kieslowski along with partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz before the former’s death.

In Heaven, Blanchett plays Philippa, an English teacher living in Italy; in the first lyrical scenes, we see her planting a bomb in an office building. Upon her arrest, we learn she was attempting to kill a mastermind of the Italian drug trade, also responsible for her husband’s fatal overdosing. Her crime having gone terribly awry, she testifies in English as translated by a young police officer, Filippo (Ribisi). As it becomes clear Philippa is to be mortally dealt with, Filippo understands her and devises a way to help her complete her assassination and escape.

Their ensuing flight becomes more and more surreal against the ever-ominous forces seeking them. At first their connection is one of idolatry for the hero who rescues her, though later it progresses, little aided by verbal communication and yet believable just the same. Eventually it becomes clear they are two halves of the same person, sharing the same names, birthdays, and in the end appearances. Their connection rises loftily above all else in the film, stripped of society, until they are two silhouettes on a hillside, separate and then joined against a heavenly backdrop. The film is shot impeccably, with composition and use of light that is completely breathtaking at times. Tykwer imparts a constant sense of movement and lyricism by having something gliding within every frame or the camera itself on a dolly.

In the opening scene, we see Filippo using a helicopter simulation program, attempting to fly higher into the clouds than the system will let him. This becomes the film’s driving metaphor. Philippa and Filippo are two people existing in the world but constantly limited by the system, by earthbound laws. I’m in the same boat. As a reviewer, it’s my job to somehow impart to you hints about a film, recommendations. I’m limited by my own abilities, my own words. The only reason I can justifiably offer on why you should see this movie was soundly stated by the friend I saw it with, a reason which needs no evidence or support –“that was a beautiful movie.”

Archived article by Lauren Sommer