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|Far from Heaven
Sometimes the consideration of one movie can help you appreciate another. After having finally gotten to see it, I think "Far From Heaven" is making exactly the same point "Pleasantville" did, but in a different way.This is not meant as a criticism of Far From Heaven, which is a superb piece of work, but as description.
"Where Pleasantville had gone before"
Far From Heaven is an attempt to make a Douglas Sirk melodrama from 1957, but adding the explicit themes (of homosexuality and racism) that Sirk would have dealt with only obliquely, if at all. They struggled mightily to make this modern film EXACTLY as if it was made in 1957--and they succeeded.
The film is superbly crafted in its every element, from set design, score, and cinematography up to the acting and writing. Julianne Moore, who one just expects these days to be excellent, excels herself in a pitch-perfect portrayal of a woman with a lot going on under what seems the perfect suburban housewife's exterior. She is matched by career-best work from Dennis Quaid, as her deeply closeted husband.
The plot is borrowed from Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, in which an older woman (Jane Wyman) becomes the object of much gossip in her small town because she starts an affair with her lower-class gardener (Rock Hudson). The forbidden love there is replaced in Far From Heaven by Moore's infatuation with her black gardener, played by Dennis Haysbert. One of the factors impelling her to seek attention is her discovery of her husband's homosexuality. As in its inspiration, the relationship with the gardener is, of course, doomed to failure.
For me, the gay theme worked better; I believed in it more than the interracial love story. Maybe Todd Haynes's heart was in the gay story more, but there is an element of reality to it that is missing from the other, which somehow smacked of Hollywood artifice. Expertly done Hollywood artifice, but still.
By casting his story in the terms of the 50's, and adhering to its own forms, playing by its own rules, Haynes gives his film a highly-charged emotional atmosphere, where the smallest things mean a lot. When scenes of actual cruelty which would not have made it into a 1950's movie do break the surface in this one, the effect is astonishing.
For one example, The entire audience I was with drew in their breath as one, loudly, when Quaid, in a drunken rage, tells his wife, "Fuck you!" And then we all laughed, realizing how atypical that reaction was for us, how jarring such swearing had become to us because of the mood the film had created.
You have to wonder, however, what is served by making this film? Why would anyone re-create such an artifact of the 50's? And the only reason to do so is to show the difference between then and now, how far we've come, how we've changed.
And that brings me to Pleasantville.
Pleasantville is direct where Far From Heaven is indirect: its modern characters are actually, physically transported into a fantasy world of the 1950's and forced to deal with it. Because Pleasantville is a comedy, it is more easily appreciated than Far From Heaven, but there is a depth to its consideration of that repressed and benighted time fully equal to that of Far From Heaven.
It's interesting, but the reviews of Far From Heaven have been much more positive than those of Pleasantville, suffering, I believe, from that stupid old prejudice that drama is somehow more important than comedy.
My single criticism of Far From Heaven is that while it does what it's trying to do perfectly, it is as carefully designed as its characters' perfectly coiffed hair. Once you know where it's going, it doesn't surprise.Still, there is real richness here, and a chance to see a bunch of folks working at their peak.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6299&reviewer=301
originally posted: 03/20/03 20:07:07
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.