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"One of Kieslowski's strengths was the way he worked with actors. His scripts are very simple, and they become masterpieces only when made by the right filmmakers. Tom Tykwer was an obvious choice for us: he is a wonderful director of actors and in his work, like Kieslowski, he creates myths. He translates his very strong, very personal vision into film reality with incredible inner strength. For this reason, it was clear that Heaven would never become an imitation. The cinematography, the scenes, the sound design, and the performances are all the result of his decisions."
Frederique Dumas of Nod Productions
The intense drama Heaven was an extraordinary challenge for Berlin filmmakers X Filme Creative Pool. For the first time, Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) made a film with foreign stars (Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi), in a foreign country (Turin and Montepulciano in Tuscany), and in foreign languages (English and Italian). The film is based on a screenplay left behind by Krzysztof Kieslowski after his death in 1996; which he wrote with his co-author Krzysztof Piesiewicz (they also wrote the outstanding Trois Couleurs trilogy, Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge).
Seven years after his death on March 13, 1996, Krzysztof Kieslowski is still one of the most prominent and influential European filmmakers. His last screenplay, Heaven, left unfilmed at the time of his death, was the first part of a planned trilogy entitled "Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory."
Born on June 27, 1941 in Warsaw, Kieslowski received his degree in directing from the University of Theater, Film, and Television in Lodz in 1969. Initially, the focus of his work was documentary films. His first foray into dramatic material came in 1973, with the television film Przejscie Podzierime" Two years later, he directed his first film, Personel. Until 1980, the up-and-coming filmmaker continued to make both feature films and documentaries at the same time.
From 1979 to 1982, Kieslowski taught in the film and television department at Silesian University in Katowice. He was also vice-president of the Association of Polish Filmmakers from 1978 to 1981. In the mid-1980s, Kieslowski and his author Krzysztof Piesiewicz came up with the idea of making an unusual version of the Ten Commandments: ten sixty-minute films for television, brought together under the name Dekalog, that told stories of daily life in Poland. Two feature-film versions of the ground-breaking work, iKrotki Film 0 Zabijaniu (1987) and Krotki Film 0 Milosci (1988),finally brought Kieslowski international recognition.
Le Double Vie de Veronique" (1990) was the first film Kieslowski made outside Poland: portions of the film, which featured Irene Jacob, were shot in France. Paris was also the birthplace of his much- admired trilogy Trois Couleurs, Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge.
At the Berlin International Film Festival, Kieslowski declared that his career as a filmmaker would end when the Trois Couleurs trilogy was completed; he later changed his mind. However, he never again worked as a director. At the age of 54, Kieslowski died unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 13, 1996, in Warsaw.
Krzysztof Piesiewicz was also born in Warsaw. After studying law at the local university, he became an attorney in the Polish capital. He still works as an attorney. Specializing in criminal law, he has served as defence attorney in many important criminal cases. He has been writing screenplays since 1983. Together with Krzysztof Kieslowski, he co-authored the Kieslowski films Bez Konca (1984), Krotki Film 0 Zabijaniu (1987) and Krotki Film 0 Milosci (1988) as well as the ten-part miniseries Decalog which served as a basis for the latter two films,. He also co-authored Le Double Vie de Veronique (1990), and the Trois Couleurs trilogy. In 1990, Piesiewicz was awarded the Golden Lion at the Gdansk Festival and the Premio Flaiano in Pescara for Krotki Film 0 Zabijaniu and Krotki Film 0 Milosci.
The French production company Nod Productions had secured the rights to the as-yet-unfilmed trilogy Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Heaven was the only part of the trilogy for which Kieslowski and Piesiewiez had been able to complete a screenplay.
Nod had no trouble awakening enthusiasm for filming Heaven in Harvey Weinstein, head of the US independent studio Miramax. Weinstein is known to be a long-time fan of Kieslowski and has brought many of the Polish filmmaker's works to the big screen.
"From the very beginning, Kieslowski himself wanted the trilogy to be made by young filmmakers," says Frederique Dumas of Nod Productions. "Our goal was to make his ambition a reality. In Miramax, we found a company that is as influential as it is intelligent and has the ability to get excited about material even before any filmmakers are on board."
To make the film a reality, Weinstein turned very early on to Anthony Minghella, the man behind The English Patient, one of the production and distribution company's biggest hits.
"Naturally, I am a great admirer of Krzysmf Kieslowski's work, as are my partners at Mirage Films, Sydney Pollack and Bill Horberg," says Minghella. "Harvey Weinstein offered our production company the project and suggested that I direct. I thought the screenplay was wonderful, but I really see myself less as a director than as a screenwriter who films his scripts himself. I simply would not have been the right person for the shoot and for radical material like this."
It didn't take long for Weinstein to find the right director for this unmistakably European material. Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run was just then making big waves and Weinstein was impressed with the films high level of energy and originality.
As Anthony Minghella remembers: "Harvey Weinstein came to me and asked what I would think of Tom Tykwer to direct Heaven. It was easy for me to imagine that. But at the time I expected that in this case, the attraction of the film version would be the collision of two visions and ideas about filmmaking that are very much the opposite of one another. Not until later did it become more and more clear to me that my initial assessment of the situation was completely wrong. Kieslowski and Tom are very close to one another: their artistic world-views, their approaches are nearly identical."
Frederique Dumas of Nod Productions remarks: "One of Kieslowski's strengths was the way he worked with actors. His scripts are very simple, and they become masterpieces only when made by the right filmmakers. Tom Tykwer was an obvious choice for us: he is a wonderful director of actors and in his work, like Kieslowski, he creates myths. He translates his very strong, very personal vision into film reality with incredible inner strength. For this reason, it was clear that Heaven would never become an imitation. The cinematography, the scenes, the sound design, and the performances are all the result of his decisions."
Tom Twyker himself was surprised that an American studio boss would offer the script to him, of all people: "It isn't obvious when you read the script. You have to have a structural understanding of my approach to filmmaking, and I give Miramax a great deal of credit for that. It's essential to remember that in the United States at that time, I was primarily known for Run Lola Run. And first of all, you have to make the jump from one kind of material to another. Naturally, you can just come up with the idea. However, on the basis of Run Lola Run, you wouldn't necessarily reach the conclusion that I might be equal to the task of creating the atmosphere and directing the emotionalism of Heaven. So I'm even more delighted that the project came about."
When Run Lola Run was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1998, the initial talks led to a first-look deal with Miramax for X Filme's projects. Heaven was first mentioned as a possible project for Tom Tykwer back in 1999, at our second meeting at Sundance," recall X Filme managing directors Stefan Arridt and Maria Kopf.
"We were excited because we thought the script was one of the best we had ever read. Of the material in the trilogy, 'Heaven' comes the closest to Tom's cinematic vision. When you read the script, it reads as if Tom had written it. All of his themes are in there: fate, coincidence, desperation, and redemption through the belief in love." At the same time, Kopf adds, "It was clear, however, that Tom was going to make another film of his own first: The Princess and the Warrior.
As Tom Tykwer reports, "Everyone was enthusiastic, including Maria Kopf, Stefan Arndt, and Manuela Stelirhabout the idea that Heaven'would be an ideal project to realise as a meaningful collaboration between X Filme and Miramax.
"The script and the material had many aspects for which we were practically essential. It was clearly set in Europe. The scope of the production was very consistent with what we are used to. It's a large project, of course, but by no means a special-effects extravaganza for which you need a big studio. It is also a film for which you have to bring together many different energies and you have to do it across various languages and national boundaries. We had slowly been working toward this already with X Filme."
"Our conditions were totally clear," explains Stefan Arndt. "Tom gets the final cut, we can bring in our usual team, casting decisions will be made jointly, and filming must take place in Europe under the leadership of X Filme. And the co-production has to be absolutely fair." Manuela Stehr, co- managing director of X Filme, continues: "We succeeded in making Heaven as an actual co- production. This means that as a production company, X Filme was not only involved on an executive basis but also came on board as a financial partner, with a thirty-five percent interest. This proved to be a real act of will, because given the date when shooting was set to start, the financing had to be pulled together in just twelve weeks. Fortunately, the participating film boards process applications within an extremely short time. As a result, we were also able to bring large parts of this international co-production to Germany: the studio filming was done in Bottrop in the state of North Rhine-Westplialia, and post- production took place in Munich, Berlin, and Dortmund."
In order to handle the ambitious work on Heaven, Harvey Weinstein asked Mirage Films to become involved.
"Because we were already acquainted with this project and are familiar with the language of European film and with shooting in Europe, Miramax brought in Mirage Films as a facilitating production company," says Anthony Minghella. "It may be that in the back of their minds, they also had the idea that we could play a monitoring role. But I must emphasise that we approached Tom and his German colleagues with the greatest possible respect. It was an artistic collaboration, through and through."
As his partner Sydney Pollack confirms, it can't always be taken for granted that a co-operative project between a US production company and a German one is necessarily a good idea.
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