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Cate Blanchett in Heaven, , Meg Ryan in love and war, Nick Nolte, Neve Campbell and others Investigating Sex – and who knows who in Mr Limpet, reports NICK RODDICK, our Hollywood eyes and ears.

Those who were beginning to think that hip German director Tom Tykwer and his Berlin-based company, X-Filme Creative Pool, were (with all due allowance for cultural differences) the German equivalent of Miramax will not be surprised to hear that the latter has signed Tykwer to direct a film.

And not just any film, either: the movie will be taken from a screenplay by the late Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowksi and his regular writing partner, Krzysztof Piesiwicz. The $11-million project is called Heaven, and is a romantic drama in which Cate Blanchett is to star as a Scottish woman who moves to Tuscany and has an affair with an Italian (played by Giovanni Ribisi). Anthony Minghella - whose last two hit movies, The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, have both been for Miramax and both shot in Italy - will produce.

Like most things Kieslowski did, Heaven is part of a trilogy, with - you will not be surprised to hear - the other parts called Purgatory and Hell. Tykwer may direct these, too, but the present deal is just for Heaven.

The trilogy is, in fact, fulfilling Kieslowksi’s original intentions. He never planned to direct the films, but wanted that to be done by an up and coming young European director or directors.

Tykwer’s only film since Lola rennt, Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Warrior and the Empress), was at one stage expected to show up in Cannes. Shot last summer, it could be ready for Venice.

The idea first surfaced about four years ago: Jim Carrey would star in a remake of a 1964 movie called The Incredible Mr Limpet, about a very ordinary guy - played in the original by Don Knotts - who drowns off the coast of Florida, is reborn as a dolphin and ends up helping the US Navy winkle out enemy subs, thus proving far more useful in the hereafter than he ever was in life. It doesn’t exactly figure among the Top 100 movies of all time - even the official Warner Bros history describes it as "part live-action, part animation and wholly a bore" - but someone obviously saw some potential in it, because Steve Oedekerk - who wrote the first Ace Ventura movie and directed the second - was to have been behind the cameras.

The movie was already in pre-production in the spring of 1999 when Oedekerk suddenly upped and quit in circumstances that no one bothered to describe as amicable. Warners were unable to find the right replacement, so Carrey pulled out too a few months later.

And there the project stayed - until mid-April of this year, when Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill and director of Office Space, attached himself to the project’s hull. Barry Levinson will produce the movie, to which Carrey may or may not return. If he doesn’t, say studio sources, his place could be taken by either Chris Rock, Mike Myers or Adam Sandler. The underwater bits will not, however, involve any of them: as in the 1964 film, they will be animated.

It’s not a pairing one would necessarily have predicted: Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie and Chilean-born, French-resident film-maker Raul Ruiz. Sure, they’re both more or less exiles: Ruiz left Chile during the Pinochet era, and Rushdie’s relationship with his native country has never been the same since Midnight’s Children, let alone The Satanic Verses.

But Ruiz is not the director who would have come to mind first to make the movie version of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Rushdie’s most recent - and, it has to be said, most coolly received - novel. It is a modern version of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, has a definite rock ‘n’ roll sensibility (Rushdie counts rock royalty among his close friends and has appeared on stage with the likes of U2) and would be the first of his novels to have been made into a film.

Ruiz, on the other hand, has no known links with rock ‘n’ roll, and until recently had carved out a notable career as a maker of quirky, sometimes surreal art movies on very modest budgets. His latest film, however, was in a quite different mode: Le temps retrouvé (Time Regained), a long, faithful adaptation of Proust which premiered at Cannes in 1999, was seen around the world and was a surprise hit in the UK last year.

Like most of Ruiz’s recent films, The Ground Beneath Her Feet will be produced by Paulo Branco’s Paris-based Gémini Films, with a budget of $15 million, and with shooting set to take place in the UK, US and Mexico early next year. No cast members have yet been set.

Gémini, meanwhile, is also behind another English-language auteur movie: Alan Rudolph’s Investigating Sex, which began shooting in Berlin at the end of May. The story of a group of latter-day Kinseys carrying out a scientific study of sex, it has a high-power cast headed by Nick Nolte - a Rudolph regular, following Afterglow and Breakfast of Champions, whose production company, Kingsgate Films, is partnered in the new film - with scream queen Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Julie Delpy, Dermot Mulroney and Jeremy Davies. The latter has been particularly busy of late, following Up at the Villa and Wim Wenders’ Belinale opener, Million Dollar Hotel.

If you were looking for a replacement for Catherine Zeta-Jones, who would you choose? Penélope Cruz, perhaps? Or Charlize Theron..? While male readers indulge their fantasies on this matter, let me give the not entirely expected answer: Meg Ryan.

Of course, the chooser is Oliver Stone, who can usually be counted on to do things differently from other people. And I dare say other actresses’ schedules may have had something to do with it. But, when war tale Beyond Borders was first announced towards the end of last year, the actress playing a nurse opposite Kevin Costner’s international disaster relief worker was Zeta-Jones. That was before she got pregnant, however. And so, with the film’s start date getting nearer, Stone and production outfit Mandalay needed a replacement.

The role that Ryan will play is not just any old nurse, of course: it is that of a rich socialite who discovers a conscience and goes off to work in the dangerous world of international relief. What is more, she is married - and not to the Costner character. But, brought together by danger, they begin an affair which flares with each new trouble spot and is rekindled with every fresh crisis. Shooting is due to start in October, with locations set to include the UK, Africa and South East Asia.

Published: September 7, 2000

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Cate Blanchett

Jim Carrey

Nick Nolte

Meg Ryan

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