The 37-year-old German writer-director Tom Tykwer has made just five feature films in his career. They are, in order of production, "Deadly Maria," "Winter Sleepers," "Run Lola Run," "The Princess and the Warrior," and now "Heaven." In my view, those five films, with their insights into the ways in which people act and think under pressure, and with a technical mastery that encompasses breathtaking cinematography and stunning editing, entitle him to entrance into the pantheon of great filmmakers. They are not to be missed by anyone who cares about this art form.
The production of "Heaven" has an interesting story. Unlike Tykwer's other work (except "Winter Sleepers") he did not write the film. It was written by the Polish writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski (and his writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz), who made the brilliant trilogy "Blue," "White" and "Red," and the ten-film series called the Decalogue. "Heaven" was to be the first in Kieslowski's proposed new trilogy of "Heaven," "Purgatory," and "Hell," but he died before he could shoot any of it. In somewhat the same way that Spielberg shot Kubrick's "A.I." for his dead friend, Tykwer took over the script of "Heaven" and made the film. It's set in and around the city of Turin, it stars the Australian Cate Blanchett and the American Giovanni Ribisi, and is in English and Italian.
Blanchett is Philippa, a young widow teaching English at a private school; her husband died of a drug overdose given him by his college friend who had turned him into an addict. She is enraged that the friend, who is an executive with a company in town as a cover for his drug dealing, has not been prosecuted even though she has written and phoned the police many times. As the film begins, she determines to kill him and puts together a little bomb that she plants in a wastebasket in his skyscraper office. But a janitor making her rounds empties the basket, and unknowingly carries it to an elevator occupied by a father and his two young children. The bomb goes off and all four are killed; innocent blood is now on Philippa's hands.
When she is questioned about the killings and learns that the wrong people died, she collapses in grief and guilt. Filippo (Ribisi), the young police officer handling the translations of the interrogation, finds himself in love with this woman, and conceives a plan to help her escape - a plan she accepts only because it will let her finish the job of killing the drug dealer before facing the consequences of her act. The rest of the film follows the pair as they carry out the plan. But we should not forget that Kieslowski and Tykwer are much too good to simply make an escape and chase film; at the climax, the heaven of the title will come into play, with all its implications intact.
Blanchett is amazing; at the age of just 33(!) she has already shown a range that extends from the young queen in "Elizabeth" to the slutty Petal in "The Shipping News" to the bank robber in "Bandits," among other roles. Blessed with an odd and extremely sexy overbite, and the ability to locate a voice that is a portal into an audience's understanding of the characters she plays, she controls the screen. She is the next generation's Meryl Streep, albeit without Streep's gift for accents.
As wonderful as Blanchett is, the real hero of this film is Tykwer. After more than a hundred years, it's hard to imagine anyone finding new ways to photograph a movie. Not only does Tykwer show us a whole new vocabulary of cinematography - which would be news in itself - his eye is so good that every shot - every single shot in the film - illuminates the artistic intent of the movie as a whole. His cinematographer is Frank Griebe, who has shot all his previous films; the two must by now be joined at the hip, because they apparently can read each other's minds. "Heaven" is a breathtaking film, and a landmark for filmmakers everywhere.