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DVD REVIEW

Heaven  (2002)

 

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi

Director: Tom Tykwer

Rating: R

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Release Date: June 17, 2003
Review posted: June 12, 2003

Spoilers: Minor

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

Synopsis

 

Devastated by her husband's death from a drug overdose, Philippa (Cate Blanchett), a British teacher living in Turin, Italy, tries to bring justice to the biggest drug dealer in Turin when the local police ignore her information about him. In building a home-made bomb and setting off a plan that fails miserably, her status changes from young widow to that of a criminal in custody. Young police officer Filipo (Giovanni Ribisi) descends into Philippa's life, changing her bleak outlook on existence into one in search of tranquility among corruption, as they become unlikely soul mates and lovers.

 

Critique

 

Before famous Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski died, he worked on a new trilogy. Heaven is the first film of the planned trilogy known as Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Kieslowskiís previous trilogy, Red, White and Blue, is incredible. Towards the end of Red, all three films are connected by way of their characters. I think the trilogy inspired director Tom Tykwer to direct Heaven and I can see why.

 

Those three films all have something about them; strong characters, intricate stories and beautiful scenery. Heaven, written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, includes all three of those terms. Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi are simple characters, but in their actions they are more than just their appearance. On top of that, both actors turn in a great performance. The story in this film is not so much intricate as it is real and involving. The script moves a little slow, but the writing of the characters, dialogue and story makes up for it.

 

Probably the greatest thing about Heaven is the look of it. Tykwerís previous three films are the lesser known and underappreciated Winter Sleepers, the famous and fun Run Lola Run and the visually captivating The Princess & The Warrior. The cinematography in all three films is damn beautiful. Itís just the way the camera moves that makes the film so visually stunning. I mean, I could go on with praise and examples, but I wonít. I think itís best to just say it as it is: Frank Gribeís cinematography and collaboration with Tykwer is amazingly beautiful, producing great images of landscapes, action and people. Going back to the look of Heaven, the cinematography captures so many different things; the beauty of a city in an overhead shot, the beauty of large a landscape (and many more) in a long aerial shot, etc.

 

Another great thing about Tykwerís films is the music score. Here Mahrius Ruhland and Tom Tykwer compose original music while Arvo Partís beautiful music is reproduced. Much of the music here is composed by violins and a few other instruments, all of them making an immediate impact. It guides the film in a way that is emotional and refreshingly free, but sometimes a practice like this backfires (when a score tries too hard to evoke emotions), although not in this case. The music doesnít really make the characters stronger or more important, but it helps to have it around, especially when itís so beautiful. Iím a film score buff so this area of a film is always an important issue with me.

 

Heaven attempts to make somewhat of a philosophical approach to a personís action. Blanchettís Philippa performs a horrible act by setting off a bomb that kills four innocent people. The film doesnít try to justify her action, but slowly builds on her as a moral character as she discovers herself and realizes the consequences that can only be redeemed in a special place. Another side of Heaven, one thatís more on the negative side, is the sense of incoherency. Iím not sure what it is, but something is missing in the film. The film is only 97 minutes long and somehow I feel it shouldíve been longer, perhaps adding more subtext and maybe a subplot of some kind.

 

However, donít get me wrong when it comes to the filmís ending. I think one element of it is a little too convenient, but that doesnít change the fact that the ending makes poetic sense. Itís probably not known how Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz ended the script in their version, but I guess they might have turned the other way; have Philippa and Filipo face the consequences of their actions, perhaps. The ending seems happy when instead it probably shouldnít, but I donít know if it really is that. It's happy for the characters in a way and somewhat disappointing to the viewer, which I can see now. Well, even with all the discussion, I think Heaven ends on a reasonable note (hopefully I havenít spoiled too much).

 

If that makes sense to you, Heaven is drama about the human condition and a relationship between two people that exceeds love. Cate Blanchettís performance is great and so is the one by Giovanni Ribisi. Both speak in Italian since much of the film takes place in Italy. Itís interesting to see them actually speak a foreign language. I canít say whether they learned it or if they could already speak it, but it doesnít matter because at the end of the film Iím impressed how realistic their performances (in Italian and English) turned out to be. Directing from a very good script, Tom Tykwer again creates a wonderful and visually stunning film.

 

The Video

 

Miramax Films presents Heaven in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This transfer is gorgeous. There are so many beautiful colors and most of them are accentuated beautifully. Color detail is equally great. I didnít notice any compressions artifacts. In fact, I didnít even notice grain or dirt on the print. Dark tones and black level are almost perfect, maybe even just so. The print is that pristine (and I donít think my eyes fail me). Heaven looks fantastic and this transfer makes the cinematography stand out even more.

 

The Audio

 

Miramax Films presents Heaven in the Original Language Track (English and Italian) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Well, the music is what gives the film most of its noise.  Dialog scenes are clear and easy to understand; emitted nicely from the front speakers. Rear speakers rarely make a big impact and surround sound is not really a factor in the soundfield. In the overall sense, however, Heaven sounds good enough to call it a very nice presentation.

 

The Extras

 

Commentary by Tom Tykwer Ė He starts off by talking about how the project started and where it came from. Tykwer is very articulate and sounds pretty good talking in the English language. The track ranges from scene-specific comments, such as characters, and revealing intentions and some trivia of the production. Tykwer makes this a conversational track. If you like the film this track is definitely worth checking out.

 

"The Story of Heaven" (~6 mins) Ė You probably donít want to watch this featurette unless you have seen the film, because one of Tykwerís comments somewhat spoils the ending (if I have not done so already, sorry if I did). Anyway, Sydney Pollack and Tykwer are featured most of the time, explaining the story of the film; I guess for anyone who didnít get it. Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi also voice their positive opinion on the film and their wanting to be a part of it. This featurette is not really a behind-the-scenes look at the film, but more of an explanation of the story, which is a little unfulfilling.

 

Deleted Scenes (~12 mins) Ė There are five deleted scenes (presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and subtitled where applicable) available with optional commentary by Tom Tykwer. One of them is an extended scene (the meeting in the attic). Three of them are fully-produced scenes cut for reasons of time and pace ("Filipo Getting Dressed," "A Leaky Roof" and "Ariel Goes Home"). The last scene, "Philippaís Shower," is more of a mishap/outtake (Tykwer is silent on this optional commentary for the scene); why is this one even here? Overall, these scenes add a little more sub context to the film and are welcome on this DVD.

 

Space Cam Fly-By (~4 mins) Ė These are a "classical amassment" of lost shots of landscapes, according to Tom Tykwer in a short commentary introducing these scenes. Basically, these are helicopter shots of landscapes Philippa and Filipo cross on their path to redemption if you will. Why this feature is not with the deleted scenes is beyond me. In short, these shots are beautiful.

 

For some odd reason, the filmís Theatrical Trailer is not included. For the same odd reason, although I canít say if theyíre actually related, the insert sleeve inside the DVD case that usually lists the filmís chapters is also missing. What gives?

 

You can select to view the film with optional English and French subtitles. The DVDís menus are interactive, but not animated. The 97-minute feature is organized into fifteen chapters.

 

Overall

 

Heaven is a great character drama and comes from a great director. Tom Tykwerís vision and style is again beautiful and stunning. The DVD treatment is very nice, including a pristine video presentation, a very decent audio transfer and a really nice set of special features (worthy commentary, interesting deleted scenes). Heaven comes recommended.

 

RATINGS SUMMARY

 

THE MOVIE

8

THE VIDEO

9

THE AUDIO

7

THE EXTRAS

7

OVERALL (not an average)

8

 


 

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