The Discovery of Heaven

The characters in this 2001 adaptation of Harry Mulisch's epic philosophical novel are nearly rich enough to sustain the fablelike plot, but ultimately this bows under the weight of its own portent. Stephen Fry and Greg Wise, both delightful, play best friends and brilliant academics—one a linguist and the other an astronomer—who both fall in love with a beatific cellist (Flora Montgomery) in 1960s Amsterdam. The three seem made for one another, and in fact they were: the triangle has been arranged by God, working through a rookie angel (shades of It's a Wonderful Life). The Lord has given up on mankind and wants to take back the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were originally engraved; the blue-eyed golden child miraculously cofathered (in separate couplings) by the two scholars is fated to retrieve the stones from their hiding place in Rome. Director Jeroen Krabbe (Left Luggage) excels at the early comic sequences and the drawing of the romantic triangle, but the story turns exceedingly dark in the last hour, and from what I know of the Mulisch novel, its intellectual underpinnings haven't survived the translation to the big screen. 134 min.

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