The international production of “Heaven” sounds like it had a development track from somewhere slightly south of there.
German helmer Tom Tykwer’s first English-language picture features producers from France and the U.S., an Australian star playing an English teacher living in Italy, and a script by a late Polish filmmaker that was translated first into French, then English.
Yet Tykwer describes the experience — which unites so many disparate cultural elements and personalities, it’s a wonder it ever got made — as “a complete co-production in the most creative terms.”
So what went right?”Heaven” begins with a script from deceased director Krzysztof Kieslowski and his writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Along with “Hell” and “Purgatory,” pic was to be part of a trilogy like Kieslowski’s “Red,” “White” and “Blue.”
After French production company MK2 abandoned the project, rights were sold to Gallic indie Noe Prods. (“Before the Rain,” “No Man’s Land”), despite bidding by U.S. companies with deeper pockets.
Kieslowski’s widow and daughter felt a “European partner” would be more inclined to respect the filmmaker’s desire that “Heaven” be helmed by a young Euro director, according to Agnes Mentre, senior VP of acquisitions and co-productions at Miramax, who along with the former October Films and Fine Line tried to buy the “Heaven” script.
To get into “Heaven,” Miramax made a co-production deal with Noe.
“They were the ones we got along with the best,” says Noe’s Frederique Dumas. “Miramax has an artistic force, and when they believe in something, they push it. Plus, they find good directors.”
Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein sent “Heaven” to Tykwer, with whom he had been exchanging material with in the hope of finding a co-production vehicle for the German helmer.
Helming against type
Tykwer, known in the U.S. for import hit “Run Lola Run,” usually chooses gritty, realistic material to film under his X Filme banner. But “Heaven” is pure Kieslowski, a “dark and metaphorical” story about a woman visiting justice against evil at any cost.
“I was not the obvious choice (to direct),” admits Tykwer.
Enter, at about this time, Sydney Pollack, whose company, Mirage, co-founded with Anthony Minghella, is a producing partner. Pollack and Minghella’s charm and diplomacy are keys to the success of the collaboration.
“We needed someone between Harvey and the director,” Dumas frankly admits. “Someone to be the relay and to assure that our moral and artistic obligations to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s estate were met.”
Minghella prefers to call Mirage the “mediators between the studio and the filmmaker.”
Tykwer says Mirage principals, including producer Bill Horberg, were “the agents of both sides in the most perfect way you can imagine.”
Since Kieslowski had always envisioned the film as an English-language pic, the “Heaven” script had been translated into English via French.
“It was a Polish translation and it needed to sit properly as an idiomatic screenplay,” explains Minghella, who did a rewrite, “a slightly more vernacular version.” Then Tykwer did a director’s pass.
Berlin a tete-a-tete
Though most of the discussions between the producers and director were done by email, fax and phone, Minghella and Tykwer spent “an intense period” together in Berlin during which they discussed “every scene in the film.”
“It was an elliptical and opaque piece of work; like all of Kieslowski’s writing, it’s often quite elusive,” Minghella says. “It was useful for Tom to talk his way through the film with me.”
Dumas says a European actress was originally attached. “Tom didn’t want her,” Dumas explains. “Not because she wasn’t talented, but because she was too identified with Kieslowski.” (Pollack says Cate Blanchett was involved from the beginning.)
“Tom sticks to his guns, but is open to hearing contributions,” explains Pollack. “Those he finds valid he will absolutely use, and where he doesn’t agree he’s secure in his own point of view.”
“Finally, you need to stand alone so there is one vision and not a mishmash,” Tykwer emphatically states. “You need to make sure the film does not lose its own identity because of the multinational stuff.”
Pollack, Minghella and Weinstein visited the sets in Tuscany and Berlin. Weinstein’s larger-than-life presence rattled Dumas, who is not used to working with Americans.
“Harvey Weinstein terrorizes everyone who works for him,” Dumas says. “We’re not used to having people with such big egos in the French cinema.” However, she is quick to point out the producer’s qualities.
“Giovanni Ribisi (who plays Blanchett’s young lover) was Harvey’s idea,” Dumas admits.
Minghella spent long hours in the editing room with Tykwer, but he stresses, “It’s not Mirage’s ideology to go and make people’s films for them.” Minghella views himself and Pollack as filmmakers offering their opinions to their filmmaker friends.
In the end, Tykwer says he “cut the film exactly the way I wanted to,” adding that the final cut includes “the input of very creative producers.”
A successful global venture?
Perhaps Dumas sums it up best: “Everyone brought a lot to the table. The film is the one we all wanted. Maybe it’s not the one we each had in our heads in the beginning, but it’s a great collaboration.”