Beauty in an explosive world

An English teacher (the miraculous Cate Blanchett) in Italy decides to blow up the businessman who caused the drug-related death of her husband and some of her pupils. But things go horribly wrong and the man who dies is an innocent bystander — with his two small daughters and a cleaner lady.

Did Philippa’s end justify her means? On a legal level, no. On a socio-political level, perhaps. But then, on a more metaphysical or religious level, which one of us leads a perfectly exemplary life? And, knowing what we do, can we be saved? This is what Heaven sets out to answer.

That this fine film was co-written by the late Krzysztof Kieslowki (who made the brilliant Three Colours: Blue, White, Red) already says a lot. That it was co-produced by Miramax, Sydney Pollack (Tootsie) and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), perhaps says more. Lastly, it is directed by Tom Tykwer, who helmed the interesting little German hit Run Lola Run.

If the subject matter sounds heavy and ponderous, it is not. In fact, it is a masterpiece of directing, acting, storytelling and cinematography. Lit (by Frank Griebe) in the autumnal colours of an Italian Vogue fashion shoot, it is a perfect marriage of the best of American and European filmmaking. That is, it moves along at a steady pace and deals with the present, respectively.

But what brings up the past more effectively than trying to live our mistake-spattered lives in the present? The deeply religious Kieslowki makes the point — every second in the film has a point — in a silent love scene between Philippa and the idealistic Filippo (a perfectly cast Giovanni Ribisi), the carabiniere who “saves” her. They undress and embrace under a tree in the Tuscan hills: Adam and Eve beneath the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And just for good measure, it is the only kitsch shot in a film full of refreshingly lovely images, dry wit and a complete absence of what Camus calls “fleshless nonsense”. Heaven may not be everyone’s carton of Coca Cola, but if you have any desire to see what beauty persists in an increasingly explosive world, you cannot do better.

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