A kind of Kieslowski

When he died in 1996, the Polish auteur left a screenplay. Can Tom Tykwer - young German director of Run Lola Run - do it justice?
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The Independent Culture

The young carabinieri officer sits on the bench alone in the deserted piazza. He's already made his choice, or was it made for him? An English woman several years his senior has been arrested for a bomb attack on a notorious drug-trafficker that left her target merely injured and innocents butchered. But that doesn't matter. He's connected with Philippa. He's prepared to give up his profession, home, everything for her. But he needs to know whether she wants his help, whether she wants to escape. Choices, after all, are everything.

The young carabinieri officer sits on the bench alone in the deserted piazza. He's already made his choice, or was it made for him? An English woman several years his senior has been arrested for a bomb attack on a notorious drug-trafficker that left her target merely injured and innocents butchered. But that doesn't matter. He's connected with Philippa. He's prepared to give up his profession, home, everything for her. But he needs to know whether she wants his help, whether she wants to escape. Choices, after all, are everything.

The director Tom Tykwer signals a cut; grips, sound and lighting engineers spill before the camera. Giovanni Ribisi, the Italian-American actor who plays Filippo, the male lead in this, the adaptation of Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz's last collaboration, remains in character, glued to the bench, absorbed.

"It was a good-looking scene, eh?" says Tykwer as we meet in the adjacent restaurant on Turin's Piazza Carignano. "I think Giovanni is amazing - he doesn't care about the camera at all, you can go like that (pouncing on me with a square picture frame formed from his hands) and he doesn't realise. He's somewhere else."

Tall, with an almost reptilian suppleness and a gelled block of thick black hair, 35-year-old Tykwer bristles with energy. Lauded for his high-octane, pop-art film of chance and choice, Run Lola Run, he and his Berlin production company X Filme were sought out by the film's co-producers, Miramax, especially for the project. Piesiewicz, the Polish lawyer and senator who dreamed up Dekalog and the Three Colours trilogy, utterly approved the choice. In a telephone interview from his Warsaw home, he tells me Tykwer "understood everything the way he was meant to understand it".

The task in hand is nothing less daunting than to transfer to screen the last screenplay of a late-20th-century legend and master of the cinematic parable; a 60-page final offering from the Kieslowski/ Piesiewicz writing partnership that tells the tale of a woman who wants to bomb her way to justice but ends up killing the wrong people and putting her faith in a young police officer who promises a love-potion for her despondency, plus another chance to kill. And the name for this story of murder and jail-breaking? Heaven.

The screenplay was completed in July 1995. Less than a year later, Kieslowski was dead, aged just 54 - two days after undergoing heart surgery in Warsaw. Piesiewicz at first hesitated but, urged on by friends and family, decided the screenplay deserved an audience. He began looking for potential producers. And he completed the other two parts of this planned trilogy - Hell and Purgatory. One thing he was sure about from the outset, however, was that Heaven should not become a Kieslowski imitation, an opinion he retains to this day: "You can approach the film with his sense of honesty," he explains patiently, "but copying his artistic language would be stupid."

This may be why he likes Tykwer so much, because Tykwer is nothing if not independent-minded. In fact, his attitude is bordering on the irreverent. He admits to surprise at developing such an instant personal attraction to what was a Kieslowski script, dismisses the critics' comparisons between Lola and the Polish director's 1981 feature Przypadek (Blind Chance), and confesses to never going "to bed with his visuals and waking up with his dreams". Nor has he (in conjunction with the film's executive producer, Anthony Minghella) flinched from making changes to the original script.

"It's always important to write the whole thing again. Not to write a new script, but actually type it again, changing little things, like certain lines of the dialogue... And, of course, some constructions didn't work and there were some personal things I didn't understand, even didn't like. I had to change them - otherwise I didn't know how to direct them. I'm doing a Tom Tykwer film," he says firmly, "and it has to become my film."

Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the fact that this is not just another filmset of one of Europe's bright young directors, as the film's star, Cate Blanchett, concedes as she skips into the restaurant. Kieslowski's shadow is a "great and beautiful shade in which to be", she says, all aglow, and she's fascinated by the "sparse and taut" script. She has found echoes of previous films in the screenplay, too - filmic refrains that she likens to the portent-signalling themes of Kieslowski's favourite composer, Zbigniew Preisner.

That said, the 31-year-old actress is also little closer to understanding what Heaven is actually about, despite hours of discussion with Tykwer in what appears a deeply collaborative effort between director and lead: "You're constantly searching for moments of poetry, and the poetry is elusive, I suppose like the concept of heaven or nirvana or an afterlife," she explains. "I'm in a state of flux and confusion. Some days it's sitting firmly in the palm of my hand, and some days all the threads slip away."

Might that be Tykwer's fault? Blanchett is horrified by the suggestion. Anthony Minghella, too, who has just flown in for the day in a production role that is entirely new for him, refuses to hear a word said against Tykwer. Stressing that he doesn't represent any "insurance policy" for Miramax, Minghella admits he was tempted to direct the film himself ("It's got one of the most striking first 10 pages of any screenplay I've read"), but passed up on the opportunity precisely because he felt his adoration of Kieslowski would make him too reverent a director: "I would have been trapped inside."

Even so, though he is convinced Tykwer and Blanchett will make this film their own and that most people will go to see it without the Kieslowski baggage of fans and critics, he knows the German has taken on a cultural mammoth.

"Being the person making the unfinished Kieslowski is very hard for him. I can see the rifles being raised to point at Tom even as we speak."

'Heaven' will be in cinemas in spring 2001

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