"Heaven" has been eagerly anticipated by a small cadre of film fans, who have been curious to see the result of a fascinating collaboration. The film's screenwriter was the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Dekalog," "Three Colors: Blue, White and Red") and the script has been brought to the screen by German director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run," "The Princess and the Warrior"). The "Heaven" script was the first of a trilogy Kieslowski was working on when he died in 1996; it eventually found its way to Tykwer, who was understandably eager to collaborate with the legendary director, if only posthumously. And then the speculation commenced: Whose movie would "Heaven" be? The astringent, often obscure Kieslowski's? Or the more kinetic Tykwer's?
"Heaven" seems to belong most to Kieslowski, and this is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on one's devotion to that filmmaker's stern but oddly blinkered moral imagination. The film stars Cate Blanchett as Philippa Paccard, an Englishwoman living in Turin, Italy. "Heaven" opens with Philippa embarking on an errand of monstrous implications; when her mission is completed, four people are dead. She is apprehended by the local police and undergoes a series of interrogations, with an officer named Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) serving as translator.
In the course of the questioning, Filippo, who lives in a state of arrested childhood with his father and brother, falls in love with Philippa. He becomes convinced that they're doubles and masterminds her escape. Like most of Kieslowski's work, "Heaven" is suffused with heady mystical themes like destiny and transcendence; when Filippo and Philippa make a break for freedom, it's not with the giddy abandon of most fugitive-lover movies, but with grave spiritual purpose. They're on the lam of God.
The two are well cast in "Heaven," each possessing a magnificent face, Blanchett with those planar cheekbones and Ribisi with his searching eyes and sensuous Cupid's bow of a mouth. As the movie progresses they increasingly come to resemble each other until they're barely distinguishable. In fact, most of "Heaven" seems to be a study in perspective. Every once in a while Tykwer photographs Turin and the Umbria countryside from above, as if to indicate God's presence, or perhaps only to remind the audience that ethics are a matter of where you sit.
But such relativism comes off as hazy and simple-minded in the face of Philippa's original inciting act, even considering Kieslowski's contortions to make it ethically ambiguous. Her crime is not ambiguous, and the attempt to make it so is a cheat. What's more, her cry toward the end of the film, "I've ceased to believe . . . in sense, in justice, in life," is the mewling of a self-pitying coward.
"Heaven" might represent the worst of what both Kieslowski and Tykwer could offer -- it's a mannered, precious exercise that seems to have less to do with lived moral dilemmas than with the smug piety of its makers.
Heaven (96 minutes, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark Theatres Bethesda Row, in English and Italian with subtitles) is rated R for sexuality.