'The last thing we wanted to do was act as executors of someone's will'

Story by Jack Foley

A conversation with Tom Tykwer:

Q: Tykwer films Kieslowski. How did you approach this work?
A: For me, the fact that it was a Kieslowski screenplay was never the critical issue, apart from the fact that I was sure I would be getting something interesting to read. That’s not necessarily true of every script I’m offered.
For me, when I read someone else’s script, ideally it should read as if I could have written it - or even better, as something I would like to have written myself. But I had never experienced this effect before.
In all these scripts, I had never found a specific reason why I had to make one of them and invest two years of my life in the project.
Naturally, Heaven was especially interesting from the very beginning, because I knew of the authors and was familiar with them, and of course I admire them very much.
But the deciding factor was that by the time I had finished reading the third page, I had forgotten about that background. I became immersed in the screenplay as if it were my own. I knew exactly what the story was getting at, not just explicitly, but implicitly as well, atmospherically, beyond the moral conflicts and the narrative circumstances.
I understood the original quality of the project and was able to see myself reflected in it. I also had a very strong feeling that the script connected with themes that I had taken up in my previous films, but in a way I had not encountered before. I definitely wanted to take on this challenge.

Q: Were you also interested in Heaven because another author had taken your themes and looked at them in a way that you might not have done?
A: My feeling is definitely that this is the script I always wanted to write but never did. It completes an aspect of my themes that I’ve always been waiting for.
From the interior perspective, you always miss critical things. I had the feeling of suddenly having access to an outside perspective that led me to a path I hadn’t yet taken. It is also important to note that I worked through the script again, in great detail, with Anthony Minghella.
Anthony sees himself primarily as an author and only then as a director. In working with him, I saw that very clearly and benefited from it very much.
With him, I once again carved out a path into the story until I had fully internalized it and made it completely my own. During the production, there was never really a pronounced feeling of focusing on Kieslowski and Piesewicz - we always just had the attitude that we mustn’t forget about them completely.
But it was intended to be a completely independent film that represented an original vision. The last thing we wanted to do was act as executors of someone’s will.

Q: You kept the locations that were in the original material. Is there a reason why Heaven has to take place in Italy?
A: That’s another one of those things that was completely obvious to me. Just as it was clear to me very early on that '‘The Princess and the Warrior’ had to take place in Wuppertal, and I knew all along that Lola had to run in Berlin, Heaven had to be set in Italy.
In particular, this has something to do with a spiritual presence in the country. There is no better place than Italy in which to situate this connection to the theological and the transcendent in the film - especially in a city like Turin, where the geometry is so unsettling and which, at the same time, has always been a centre of the occult, one of the world’s cult centres, with an unbelievable variety of shades of belief.
As a counterpoint to that, I wanted to have the lyrical power of the Tuscan countryside; there is something about it that is very melancholy but simultaneously liberating. When the characters arrive in Tuscasny, we know that things will take on a clarity that wasn’t visible before. In Turin, where the film begins, the darkness and negativity still dominate.

Q: And you had Cate Blanchett in mind from the beginning?
A: I imagine it has a lot to do with the fact that she already has this whole range in her face. Cate’s presence is ambiguity made flesh. Photographing her is incredibly demanding.
She has a face that is always capable of changing. At the same time, there are very few people in the world who are as much in command of what they project, not just technically but also in terms of their aura, as she is.
She has mastered the interplay between absolute control and completely letting go of her emotions. That’s very important, because it is also a hallmark of the character she plays: a person who, in a virtually obsessed state, is capable of committing a controlled act that she is also able to justify within her schematic way of thinking. Because she allows emotion and love into her life again, her view of the world changes as well.

Q: For those on the outside, Cate Blanchett is certainly a more obvious choice than Giovanni Ribisi in the role of Filippo…
The film depends on the presence of both of them and the balance between them. It was always clear to us that the film would stand or fall on the basis of the chemistry between them. Giovanni Ribisi was the first actor I met specifically for the role, which happened because he simply showed up on the doorstep one day when I was in Dortmund mixing ‘The Princess and the Warrior’.
I was really pretty tied up and just wanted to talk with him for about 10 minutes. The 10 minutes turned into an unbelievably intense three-hour meeting.
The strange effect of it was that I immediately saw Filippo in front of me. However, I wasn’t willing to believe that the first one could be the right choice, so I had to make sure. I met with dozens and dozens of actors, many of them very interesting, but in the end the Filippo I imagined simply didn’t make an appearance. Clearly, I just had to go through all this in order to recognise that my very first impression really was correct and that I had seen Filippo right from the outset.
Giovanni’s style of tender obsession predestined him for the part. There was a quiet determination and insistence that he absolutely had to play Filippo, so that eventually I could see it too.
My impression was that he had read the script as an actor in the same way that I had done as a director.

The interview was conducted by Thomas Schultze in November 2001

RELATED LINKS: Click here for the official Heaven website.

RELATED STORIES: Click here for the Heaven review...