Heaven (2002)

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Released 19-Apr-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 93:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Tom Tykwer

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Cate Blanchett
Giovanni Ribisi
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Marius Ruhland
Tom Tykwer

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Titling
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Background:  How did Heaven come to be?

    It is said that by the time you see a great movie on screen, it has been made not just once, but in fact made and then re-made three times over. Firstly it is made in the process of drafting and the endless rounds of re-drafting and fine-tuning the script, then the film is re-made in principal photography, where that polished script is again reinterpreted during the process of 'capturing the moment', and then finally the film is re-sculpted a third time in the editing process, where the noise of what was captured in principal photography is distilled and re-moulded into a finished product, with the benefit of a process that gives the director innumerable passes at re-telling his/her story with different emphasis. It is also said that no matter how good the principal photography and editing processes may be, in order to achieve the goal of a truly great movie it is absolutely essential that you must first start with a great script. After all, without a great script, the director and actors may not even be attracted to want to tell the story in the first place, or even if they are, then a poor script will provide no foundation on which to build, no matter how effective the latter principal photography and editing stages may be. On the other hand though, most would agree that even starting with the benefit of the most polished script in the world does not, in and of itself, guarantee an outstanding movie, as there will be significant differences of interpretation and reinterpretation of the story when the latter two stages of the film-making process are applied.

    Heaven started its life blessed with a great script, penned by two past-masters of script writing, the late Polish writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski and his long-time co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Those familiar with Kieslowski and Piesiewicz's work will know that their stories focus on some key humanist themes, particularly the exploration of contemporary relationships and especially how lives are impacted by the fine line between chance and destiny. Entwined with these themes is an exploration of the metaphysical, or as Kieslowski once put it, "a belief that there must be more things beyond what we can see" - a belief in the life of the spirit.

    Kieslowski and Piesiewicz liked to explore these themes in the context of large and complex bodies of work, the final chapter of which is this film, Heaven. The two writers first began collaborating in Poland in 1984 and achieved widespread critical acclaim (initially in their home country, but then later around the world) for a series of ten films made for Polish television in 1988, The Decalogue. Decalogue was an entirely unique concept, comprising a series of ten 60-minute dramas exploring the theme of The Ten Commandments and if/how these fundamental moral codes still relate to people in a modern context. This series was a monumental body of work just in itself. With a well-honed writing style and Kieslowski's obvious talents as director, the pair then broke in Western Europe in 1991 with the emotional and abstract one-off film The Double Life of Veronique, but it was their masterpiece of The Three Colours in 1993/4 - a trilogy of feature films exploring the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity in modern relationships - for which the pair won greatest international accolades. So, after having successfully tackled such complex themes as The Ten Commandments and then liberty, equality and fraternity, what mammoth project would the pair next turn to? In 1995, they began working on the concept of a new trilogy of film scripts, exploring the concepts of heaven, hell and purgatory. Only the first of these scripts, it would seem, was destined to make the light of day as a finished film. Very sadly, Kieslowski was to pass away in 1996, at which point only an initial draft of the first screenplay had been completed, along with very rough treatments for the second and third stories. It was left to Piesiewicz to continue with the process of several re-drafts necessary to sculpt the final script for Heaven, by himself.

Plot synopsis of Heaven:

    Heaven is the story of Philippa (Cate Blanchett), an English teacher living in Turin, Italy. Philippa is introduced to us unexplainably at the beginning of the film coldly preparing and then planting a bomb in a man's office within a large office building. We don't know why. She plants the bomb and then calmly leaves the building, only to call on a pay phone right out front of the building to firstly warn an unintended victim in the office to leave the building and then - bizarrely - to call the authorities and tip them off about the bomb, even identifying herself in the process, before calmly walking away. This compelling story introduction and the immediate questions it poses for its audience (why is she doing this? and what will the consequences be?) is what first attracted talented young German director Tom Tykwer to want to direct this script.

    Through a chance incident, we see that the bomb does not kill its intended target at all, but instead murders four completely innocent victims, including two young children. Philippa is arrested and interrogated by the Caribinieri (one of the two Italian police forces), where she learns herself for the first time of the unintended and fateful consequence of her actions. As she breaks down with guilt, we learn the reasons for her actions - that Philippa had suffered through the death of her husband and several children from drugs supplied by a local drug lord, and in desperation at not being able to bring this man to justice to stop him from killing more innocent lives, she had finally decided to take the law into her own hands. This introduces an immediate and interesting moral dilemma for the audience, in that on the one hand we learn Philipa is basically a moral person and had only acted out of complete desperation to try to prevent more deaths, but yet on the other hand we know there can of course be no excuse for condoning this character carrying out the actions she did, even if the motivation itself may have been defensible.

    Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) is a young Caribinieri on hand to act as translator for Philippa when she insists on testifying in English. The two form a connection and Filippo becomes immediately besotted with her, seeing the good in this person and realising that she is not (by nature) a terrorist. Filippo hatches a desperate plan to help her escape and plans to run away with her. The second half of the movie tells the story of their escape, their strange relationship and what happens to them.

    Kieslowski and Piesiewicz's pretext of heaven is dwelt on in an ironic and a surreal way in this script. It is ironic in that, whilst Philippa wants to send someone to what she is sure will be hell - not heaven! - by a very random chance event she fails and instead only succeeds in sending four completely innocent victims to heaven prematurely. But rather from learning from this experience, after escaping from the police she immediately informs Filippo of her intention to continue to carry out her initial murder plan. She is (dare I say it) hell-bent on carrying out this murder before then turning herself in again to the authorities to face justice, despite all that poor besotted Filippo has just risked for her. This is of course hardly the rationale reaction of someone who should be remorseful for having prematurely ended the lives of four innocent victims on her first attempt. Filippo's actions are also rather ironic. He is a member of the Caribinieri, yet he not only plans and facilitates the escape of a self-confessed murderer, but worse still becomes a willing accomplice to help Philippa carry out her murder a second time around. So this also poses interesting moral questions about Filippo's character - why is he so blindly willing to follow her?, what is it that draws him to her so compellingly? and is he completely morally bereft or just morally confused like Philippa?

    The pretext of heaven is also dealt with in this film in a rather surreal way, drawing heavily on Kieslowski and Piesiewicz's obsession with the metaphysical, giving the whole story a rather dream-like observation of the characters. The plot is clearly not meant to come across as real-life. Tom Tykwer's opening scene in the film (the only completely new scene he wrote and added to the original script) sets the dream-like tone for the story perfectly, showing Filippo flying a helicopter over the beautiful - but surreal - landscape of a flight simulator programme. Later, the circumstances in which the characters find themselves in this film, and in particular the circumstances of Philippa's escape from the police, are rather unrealistic. Then, as the film progresses further, we come to understand that the developing relationship between Philippa and Filippo is also rather strange - this is no orthodox, simple love story.

    This story is ultimately about a meeting of two spirits. The characters share a Platonic and unconditional love rather than a physical one. The similarities between the two characters is highlighted by several obvious cues, including the similarity of their names, the fact that they share the same birthday, and their sharing of the same clothes and the same haircuts. Philippa and Filippo are two flipsides of the same coin, slowly drawn from their respective worlds of obsession and single-mindedness to a life that is free, open and complete together. The notion of the characters' journey together from the darkness 'towards the light' is perfectly conveyed on screen by Tykwer, with his long slow shot of the train approaching the light at the end of a tunnel and then emerging into the bold Tuscan landscape. Towards the end of the movie, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the scene of the two characters finally coming together under a big tree is more akin to the coming together of two halves of a spirit, than an overly sexual act (Tykwer handles this crucial scene brilliantly). And finally, note that the ending of this film is not meant to be entirely realistic - it is a dreamlike and spiritual conclusion, and is a neat pay-off for the comment Filippo has made in the film's opening scene.  Heaven is, in short, a Platonic and redemptive love story that is told with  recurring and effective references to spirituality.

Directing Heaven:

    Tom Tykwer had very big shoes to fill in taking on this script, but I for one think he has excelled at the challenge. You need only see any of Tykwer's most recent films, Winter Sleepers (1997), Run Lola Run (1998) or The Princess And The Warrior (2000), to know that this man is not only an extremely talented film director, but also someone who shares Kieslowski's obsession with stories exploring the fine line between chance and destiny. Tykwer openly admits to having been heavily influenced by the legacy of Krzysztof Kieslowski's work, and this can be seen particularly in Run Lola Run. Some noted homages to Kieslowski in Tykwer's treatment of Heaven include:

    However it should be stressed that Heaven is not just a Kieslowski-inspired film and, whilst it may be hard not to go ahead and compare and judge the film in this context, it is also perhaps unfair to do so. Whilst openly Kieslowskian in its style, yes, this film should also be taken as Tom Tykwer's own piece of art. Heaven may have started life blessed as a great script, but yet it is Tykwer's interpretation and telling of the story. Just as Kieslowski would no doubt have changed, re-written and re-emphasised different elements of his own original script treatment during both the principal photography stage and then the editing stage of making this film, so too Tykwer has done. But far from stumbling with this monumental challenge, he has delivered a sensitive, beautiful and balanced film. I for one think it was highly appropriate that of all the directors who could have ended up with the opportunity to make this film, it should be Tykwer. Bravo.

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Transfer Quality


    The DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, which is an acceptable compromise from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. There is only one scene where the slight cropping is noticeable and the lack of the full 1.85:1 ratio is obvious, and that is a lingering close up of the faces of the two protagonists as they sit across a table from each other near the end of the film, at 83:10. Other than the obviously too tight framing in this one scene though, the DVD aspect ratio is fine.

    Foreground sharpness borders on the extemporary, with fine details on display in facial close-ups, the Caribinieri uniforms, the rich Tuscan landscapes and other places. Background resolution is also for the most part quite sharp. The resolution in this transfer stops just short of being reference quality in my books, only due to a small amount of grain that is there in the transfer on closer inspection. This just takes the edge off the sharpness a touch.

    The colouring in the transfer cannot be faulted at all though. All colours are deep, but without being over-saturated at all. Blacks and darker colours are solid and all primary colours and skin tones are delicately balanced. This director and cinematographer utilise a changing colour palette in the film, with the opening third of the movie, set in the police station, being predominantly flat and austere, then with colours introduced and contrasted more as the characters escape. As the train emerges from the tunnel about half way through the movie, the characters are transported from Turin into the rich Tuscan landscape, which opens up suddenly and dramatically with stunning browns and greens, contrasted beautifully with the deep blues of the sky (the director's constant reminder to us of heaven). There is some exhilarating cinematography on offer in this film and it certainly deserved the great DVD transfer it has received to do it justice.

    There are no MPEG artefacts, no material film-to-video artefacts (some very trivial aliasing on one park bench and one set of stairs aside) and no film artefacts to mention either. This is a stunning transfer effort.

    The disc carries default English subtitling for the Italian speech of the Caribinieri, as well as English and English for the hearing impaired streams for the rest of the movie. I sampled the English subtitle stream and found it to be accurate, clear and unobtrusive.

    Surprisingly for such a detailed transfer, this disc is actually single layered - not dual layered as the packaging indicates.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The brilliant video transfer is accompanied by an equally effective, but subtle, audio transfer.

    There is only one audio track available, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (at full bit rate 448Kb/s).

    The dialogue quality is crystal clear, and I had no trouble discerning any of the lines at all. Audio sync is also perfectly fine throughout, with the only notable exception being one line by Cate Blanchett at 17:04, with poor sync apparently due to some mis-timed ADR.

    The music score is provided by German composer Marius Ruhland, with the director also credited for some additional music. The scoring is simple and sparse throughout, with the main theme dwelling on some simple piano chord progressions, evocative yes, but tending to become a little too self-consciously reminiscent at times of Zbigniew Preisner's haunting themes for Blue and Veronique.

    This is a subtle but very effective surround audio mix. The surround channels are used for the most part simply for ambient sound effects like room noises, birds and other outside sounds, helping to expand the front soundstage. The surrounds are also used to embellish the music score where needed to prevent it becoming flat. Whilst there is minimal more obvious use of the surrounds for precise directional effects, on the few occasions they are employed for this purpose (like for the sound of wind, most memorably) the 5.1 mixing is quite effective.

    The is not a high action movie and consequently there is no significant call on the subwoofer. However the sub does help out on the odd occasions to accentuate some bumps and knocks.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There no extras at all on this bare-bones rental release. Let's hope that the sell-through release, when it finally arrives (I won't contemplate "if" it arrives!), does include the extras that are known to be available (see below).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is due for release in Region 1 and Region 2 this month and from the scant details posted so far both would appear to be the same bare-bones release.

    I did hunt down specs on one site for a separate German release of this film in Region 2 that includes director audio commentary, a making of featurette, interviews featurette and a trailer, however it is unclear whether the commentary and extras are provided in English audio or even with English subtitles (note that many German DVD releases do not come with English subtitles). Until we find out for sure whether either the Region 1 or Region 2 releases contain any extras, I will put this one down as equal across regions for now.

Additional note added 5 November 2003:

Heaven is now available as sell-through releases in both Region 1 and Region 2. Both are identical, featuring 1.85:1 16x9 enhanced video (although the aspect ratio of the Region 2 DVD, as I measured it, was actually slightly less than that - around 1.81). Both discs come with the following extras:

Note also that the Region 2 video transfer appears even sharper than the (already very good) Region 4 video transfer. The Region 2 transfer  is indeed less compressed, boasting an average data bit rate of a high 8.9 Mb/s (wow!), compared to the Region 4 rental disc's average bit rate of only 5.7 Mb/s.

There is still no word on any release date yet for a sell-through of Heaven here in Region 4. A very good sign though is the fact that the Region 2 disc has been dual-zoned Region 2/4, indicating that when (if?) we ever do get a sell-through here it will be identical to the Region 2. But until any such release is confirmed, then the Region 2 disc is the clear winner. My recommendation would be to buy the excellent Region 2 release now, rather than keep waiting for the Region 4 sell-through that might not ever come.


     Heaven is a warm, redemptive love story. It is a film that started life blessed with a great script but also hindered by having very large shoes to fill to direct it. It is unfair to compare this film to Three Colours Red or The Double Life of Veronique, as Heaven will of course come up wanting in comparison. Tykwer is not Kieslowski, but he has proven to be not only an ambitious, technically proficient director, but also an extremely stylistic and sensitive one as well - his adaptation of this film proves that in spades.

    The Region 4 rental release DVD benefits from a brilliant video transfer and subtle but highly effective audio transfer. Extras are nonexistent yet until we (hopefully) see a sell-through release.  (See additional comment above.)

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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no default english subtitles - REPLY POSTED