Monday, 25 January 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Heaven


With a weight of expectation heaped upon it for being based on a script/treatment co-authored by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, it will always be destined to struggle to match or, Heaven forbid (pun intended), exceed those expectations.

Playing out like an exercise in veneration and legacy-building, it feels very much like ‘Hollywood does Euro arthouse’, somehow lacking the ring of authenticity. Despite a healthy European pedigree, the hands of the Weinsteins and co-producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack rest heavy on its shoulders. It seems to want it both ways; to be taken as seriously as Kieslowski’s other work but be accessible to a global market.

It opens strongly with a jolt-inducing opening act of terrorism and Philippa’s (Cate Blanchett) dawning realisation of the consequences of her actions is well-handled and profoundly moving. The decision to cast Giovanni Ribisi as her foil is the perfect example of the lack of commitment to getting it right. Set entirely in Italy with the majority of the dialogue spoken in the native tongue, the lead Italian role goes to an American of Italian origin, ostensibly to sweeten the pill of it all becoming too European. That’s not to say he’s not passable in the role but it screams of half-measures.

It does have moments of greatness though. While possibly slightly too neat, the bookends are at least satisfyingly done. Blanchett, as ever, delivers a fine performance with a near-faultless English accent and it’s nice to see Ribisi can play something other than wild-eyed creep.

The greatest asset is the stunning cinematography, helped along by sweeping aerial shots across the russet-toned landscape. Tom Tykwer is a solid and, dare I say, exciting director with the occasional misfire (The International) but an otherwise solid body of work across different genres. I can’t tell if the fault lies with the script or the direction but despite the story being told at such a meticulous, measured pace it takes huge leaps in both logic and character motivation. What takes place across a mere few days is filled with characters who make snap-judgements on a whim as if they’ve been in each others’ company for a lifetime. But maybe that’s the point. To me, the core relationship never felt developed before gradually subsiding into a pensive lovers-on-the-lam picture.

It’s difficult to say what this could have been without a Hollywood connection. It would presumably offer even less answers than it does in its current state but would maintain a purity which is lost in this cross-cultural muddiness.

(High) 2/5

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