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Agnieszka Tennant

Heaven for a Terrorist

How are our actions judged?

Man is soul clothed in a body," said Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the coauthor of the screenplay for the movie Heaven, at a news conference following the Polish premiere of the film. "You cannot separate the two. You cannot touch the inside, but you have to look at it."

In the Nineties, the films of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, on which he collaborated with Piesiewicz, offered just such a glimpse of the human soul. The trilogy Three Colors: Blue, White, Red and especially the Decalogue series (ten understated films loosely based on the Ten Commandments) gave us enough of the outside to reveal the silhouette of the inside. So does Heaven—but only if you watch it with Piesiewicz's metaphysical realism in mind.

The $16 million Miramax/X-Filme production directed by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer begins like a classic action movie. First, as if part of a different picture, a computer game foreshadows the astounding ending. Then the cliffhanger proper begins: A young woman slyly places a time bomb in a trash can inside a Turin skyscraper. She leaves the building, and soon we see a janitor emptying the basket and taking the trash with her. She pushes her trash collection onto an outside elevator, with a man and his two daughters on board. The closing of the doors is followed by the sound of an explosion—leaving us to imagine the horror within.

This suspenseful energy—stressed by the German director with a beautiful, sparse piano score he cowrote with Arvo Pärt—is a Tykwer trademark but not a quality associated with the introspective Kieslowski. And as with another recent case of a director carrying out the vision of one who had died—Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick's A.I.—critics set out to compare and contrast the two directors involved in Heaven. But the question is not, as some reviewers assumed, whether Kieslowski's directing would have resulted in a different movie. Of course it would—but he never planned to direct Heaven, which he and Piesiewicz completed several months before ...

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