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Culture

Much Ado About "Heaven"

"Heaven" by 36-year-old German film director Tom Tykwer was the opening film of the 52nd Berlin Film Festival. It's been sharply criticised, praised to the skies and above all much talked about.

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Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi in "Heaven"

It was touted as the "German film of the year", one that would pave the way for a further three German entries at the 52nd Berlin film festival that kicked off on February 6.

But ever since "Heaven" by well-known German director Tom Tykwer was screened on the opening night of the festival in Berlin, the director of "Run Lola, Run" has found himself constantly explaining what exactly is so "German" about his new film.

International production

Filmed in Germany and Italy in both the English and Italian language, the movie stars Australian, American and Italian actors, the script is written by two Polish authors, and the music score largely written by a Finnish composer.

The competition entry is an international co-production by X Filme Creative Pool and American Miramax. Of German origin are the cameraman Frank Griebe and director Tom Tykwer, as well as some members of the German-American production.

What's so German about it?

What fuelled the debate on the "Germanness" of the film was a comment by the new director of the Berlin Film Festival, Dieter Kosslick, who has neither been bashful about concealing his fondness for home-made productions nor about giving the Berlinale a distinct German flavour this month. "Heaven" according to him was the beginning of a revival of German cinema.

In an interview to the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, Tykwer said, "The film is certainly German. I have neither changed my perspective nor cut off my roots. Only the language and the location are changed".

An emotional rollercoaster

"Heaven" is an intense thriller, love story and moral drama rolled into one.

Set in the Italian city of Turin, the film is about Philippa, an English teacher played by award-winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who tries to kill a heroin dealer for selling drugs to children.

She ingeniously plants a self-made bomb in his office, which ends up killing four innocent people while the drug dealer escapes unhurt. Philippa does not resist arrest.

A young police officer, Filipo, played by Giovanni Ribisi, falls in love with her during the interrogation. He helps her escape, kill the drug peddler and they both wander around picturesque Tuscany and distance themselves from reality.

Heightened Sensitivity after September 11

And no, "Heaven" isn't a film about terrorism. In an interview with Reuters, Blanchett said events might have changed nuances of "Heaven" had it not been finished before September 11.

"If we now start making films where no one can put a bomb in a building it's ridiculous, because culture enables us to understand what goes on in reality", she said.

Tykwer, who shot to fame with his 1998 box office success, "Run Lola Run" said at a news conference, "We made the film about one year before the horrible events of September 11. We were already in the final phase of making the movie at that point. We did not have to do anything different because the focus of this film is not a terrorist".

An open end causes much uproar

The film has received a fair amount of praise in the German media. The German daily, Tagesspiegel almost sighs as it writes that the end is beautiful, almost too beautiful as the two fleeing lovers clamber into a helicopter atop an estate in Toscana and take off into the heavens.

The film has been accused of being heavy viewing but at the same time shallow. Of being almost childish despite a gripping start. Of having a strong plot, but then leaving all initiative to a very young inexperienced police interrogator to let his love triumph over all kinds of adversity.

Predictable or bizarre, the only way to find out is by watching it yourself.

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