Heaven

Diane Keaton’s directorial debut is somewhat akin to her one-time paramour Al Pacino’s directorial debut, Looking for Richard: Both are contemplative, off-the-cuff pieces augmented by a variety of opinions. Pacino’s film studied Shakespeare by way of Richard III; Keaton tackles nothing less than the concept of Heaven and the Big Questions about it. She doesn’t appear in the film; the most recognizable face here (aside from the actors in the many vintage film clips) is boxing promoter Don King. Broken up into sections headed by conversation-starters (some repeated) like “Are you afraid to die?” and “Is there sex in Heaven?”, the movie is heavily weighted towards Christianity and true believers; the few skeptics we see are placed opposite devout Christians in debate.

Some of the interviewees are down-to-earth, some loopy, all fascinating. Keaton uses tons of old movie footage ranging from Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc to Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, and if her choices in editing this footage (and in photographing some of the interviews) are a tad pretentious, nothing she does is nearly as weird as some of the vintage televangelist broadcasts and Christian-scare reels we see. Of necessity the movie asks questions without arriving at any answer except, perhaps, the oddly moving “goodbye” montage at the end. Does Keaton herself believe in Heaven? You wouldn’t know from the film, and that’s probably her highest achievement. Though I suppose Keaton agrees with Belinda Carlisle that Heaven is a place on Earth, since she directed the video for that Carlisle single later the same year.

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