After his final film Red, the renowned Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski announced to the world that he was retiring from filmmaking. Secretly, however, he and his frequent collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz were writing a new trilogy of films, to be titled Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, respectively. Unfortunately, Kieslowski died after writing Heaven, and so never got the chance to personally bring it to the screen. Current Euro filmmaker darling Tom Tykwer, best known for Run Lola Run, was hired to take the reins instead.
What we're left with is an interesting but not altogether satisfying film that touches on some of Kieslowski's themes of parallel souls, guilt, redemption, and the aftermath of horrible mistakes, but little of the late filmmaker's transcendence. Of course, it's unfair to criticize Heaven as somehow not belonging to Tykwer. It's very much a part of the rest of his work, with the notable exception of Lola. Those expecting any of Lola's energy or enthusiasm will be disappointed; those who saw his last film, the ponderous The Princess and the Warrior, should have a better idea of what to expect.
Cate Blanchett plays an Englishwoman living in Italy who, believing her husband's death to be the fault of a local drug dealer, decides to take the law into her own hands by blowing up the dealer in his own office. A major mix-up ensues and she winds up sparing him and killing four innocent people – including two children – instead. (The set piece at the beginning of the film depicts this with equal amounts of discretion and horror.) Repentant of her crimes, she is ready to pay the price – but not until she finishes her business of killing the drug dealer. Her English language interpreter (Giovanni Ribisi, an American actor more or less successfully convincing us that he is an actual Italian), who has fallen instantly in love with her, decides to risk it all to help her complete her mission – then talks her into escape.
The two characters share birthdays and names (she Philippa, he Filippo), and over the course of the film they become practical mirror images of each other. Unfortunately this never amounts to anything in terms of theme or story. It's just a clever device in Tykwer's hands. Blanchett and Ribisi also make a most unlikely couple. Although just five years separate them in real life, his is such a baby face and she is so sophisticated that they seem more like mother and son.
Finally, let's face it: when you call your film Heaven and depict your main characters as earthbound angels, there had better be some real sense of spirituality or at least mysticism on display. Here the film, unforgivably, comes up empty. I left the theatre missing Kieslowski.