Heaven (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Did you ever leave a movie feeling that it was an excellent movie, and that you didn't really enjoy the experience of watching it? That's what happened to me with Heaven, a too-arty-by-half story of a woman who takes the law into her own hands with disastrous consequences.

After the credits, the movie begins with schoolteacher Cate Blanchett placing a bomb into the Italian office of a powerful corporate drug dealer. According to Blanchett, the intended victim has been responsible for the deaths of her husband, and several of the school children in her classes. His operation is so slick that the police are involved in kickbacks, and the cops on the street even receive product discounts. The police corruption makes it impossible for Blanchett to get justice, so she decides to give up her own life to kill him, fully intending to spend the rest of her life paying for the crime. Something horrible transpires. The bomb is in a trash can, so is picked up by a cleaning woman and taken away from the office. When it finally explodes, it takes the lives of the cleaning lady, along with a father and his two young daughters.

Blanchett has therefore committed a terrible crime in her attempt to kill the corporate monster, but he lives on in peace, while the police accuse her of being a member of a terrorist organization. Needless to say, since the police are corrupt and tied in with the scheme, all of the evidence is systematically destroyed or polluted so that Blanchett's explanation seems ludicrous.

One man believes her. Her police translator (Giovanni Ribisi) senses that she is telling the truth, and conceives an elaborate plan to help her escape. Once she does so, she tells him that she has not agreed to flee to be with him or to avoid prosecution, but simply to finish the job she started - to kill the man who escaped her bomb. Ribisi is so smitten with her that he agrees to assist in the murder, and her subsequent flight.

If you have been paying attention, you are probably wondering, "so, who am I supposed to identify with in this movie?"  Is it Blanchett, the woman who begins the film by blowing two innocent little children to smithereens in pursuit of her activism? You might ask yourself this: even if Blanchett had been successful in killing the callous corporate exploiter instead of the kids, could we sympathize with her position? We don't even know whether she is correct in her claims, or is simply an activist loony like so many deluded individuals in the world.

I don't know. I guess your takeaway is supposed to be that things are never as simple as they appear. If you are a serious movie buff, you are thinking, "this sounds like a Kieslowski movie. But he has been dead for years."  Kieslowski, who seems to have wanted to be a filmmaker a lot less than he wanted to be an ethics professor, was the master of the unresolved ethical dilemma. You're right. It is a Kieslowski movie. Before he died, the esteemed Polish auteur was working on the scripts for another series of films. He hoped to follow his "three colors" trilogy with another one, tentatively titled "Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory". Tom Twkver, the brilliant director of Lola Rennt, decided to make Heaven from Kieslowski's script, treading on the same path Speilberg followed when he directed the late Stanley Kubrick's unproduced script for A.I.

It is a strange marriage of styles. Everyone and everything in this film is quite brilliant, yet nothing quite seems to work right.  Blanchett and Ribisi are brilliant in the film, especially Ribisi who casts off the disturbed persona he has assumed so often, and plays a low-key role in both English and Italian (at which he seems to be quite fluent). Director Twkver creates a spectacular Italian world with some brilliant camera work. But Twkver's innate romanticism seems to make the second half of the film all wrong. It seems like a "Butch and Sundance in South America" phase, with the lovers fleeing across the golden landscapes, and the pacing is so languid as to make one doubt it could have been directed by the same guy who did the frenetic Lola Rennt. I learned a new movie equation from this film. Kieslowski + Twkver = Schlondorff. Twkver and Kieslowski are both interested in situational ethics and the possibility for multiple outcomes from our actions, but Kieslowski was a political person who wanted to make a hard examination of real choices in the real world. This script almost seems to justify Blanchett's murder of the two little girls because she was only trying to save children in the first place, similar to Schlondorff's approach toward "Rita" of the Baader-Meinhof gang, whose participation in the murder of innocents almost seems to be brushed off as youthful idealism.

I really admire Twkver's work, but frankly, I wish Twkver would have made a Twkver movie instead of turning a Kieslowski script into a very beautiful Schlondorff movie. To get the full effect, imagine if a politically charged Schlondorff movie were remade by Bertolucci, in the manner of Stealing Beauty. There you have "Heaven".

Twkwer is not a man who is most comfortable in the world of realpolitik. His milieu is the hypothetical gaming situation, the fairy tale that resembles life. His approach to this film is too sweet, too gentle toward the main characters, verging at times on the edge of becoming a fairy tale romance in itself. Of course, Kieslowski might have approved if he realized that the director could make the audience love the child-slayer and her accomplice, then feel awful when realizing it ... because ... well, because getting people to question what they believe is what Kieslowski was all about.


Masha Sirago does a topless sex scene in which Roberto D'Allessandro shows part of his butt.

Cate Blanchett and Ribisi do a sex scene shot in silhouette in a sunset, with the camera far away. It is not possible to say how much they are wearing, if anything, or even if it is really they.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1. Gorgeous transfer.

In the beginning of the film, during the credits, Ribisi is learning to fly a helicopter on a simulator. His instructor says, "in a real helicopter, you can't just keep going higher". Ribisi responds, "how high can I go?". At the end of the film, Ribisi steals a helicopter and we follow it from the ground perspective as it ascends ever higher until it disappears from sight, into the clouds, into ... heaven.

That kind of artistic foreshadowing and blatant symbolism will let you know exactly what to expect from this film: a strange experience that will leave you moved at times, but thinking that you should have liked the movie a lot more than you actually did.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It obviously cost a lot to make, and it was distributed by Miramax, which always does things top-drawer. Unfortunately, it performed unimpressively even in a limited art house run. It never made it beyond 40 screens, and finished with a domestic gross below a million dollars.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ - arty, unusual, complicated, beautiful, but in some ways morally repugnant. An impressive film in many ways, but not one for the ''Joe six-pack" kind of moviegoer.

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