Head in the Clouds is what I thought it would be: not only is it a chick movie, but it’s a sad chick movie dressed up as an art house film. For dessert the movie features a love triangle where one of the angles is a lesbian relationship. To put it nicely I was dreading sitting down to watch this movie. I was happy to discover an entirely watchable experience.
Guy (Stuart “the man who would be Aragorn” Townsend) is a young, idealistic student at Cambridge when he meets the impulsive and modern-thinking Gilda (Charlize Theron). Despite her having a boyfriend, Gilda and Guy briefly become lovers but then are separated when she gets the travel bug. After a year, she summons Guy to Paris, where she has become a photographer and is sharing (nudge nudge, wink wink) her apartment with Mia (Penelope Cruz), a Spanish expatriate who is studying to become a nurse while working for Gilda as a model.
Gilda has a strong streak of selfishness but is a fiercely loyal friend to both Guy and Mia. Both her friends/lovers are troubled by the Civil War in Spain, and both decide to head there to help the Republicans against the Fascists. Gilda’s ideals seemingly do not extend beyond her friends and she is heartbroken and angry at losing both of her closest lovers. She shuts herself off from them as they go to war. Guy and Gilda meet again in later years in Nazi-occupied Paris where she seems to still be angry with him but has made some surprising decisions about the way she leads her life. To say any more would let out spoilers.
Like I said, I found this movie quite enjoyable despite a somewhat conventional, almost old-fashioned story spruced up to look trendy with a lesbian angle. It was good because writer/director John Duigan made these characters people with whom you can empathize as they are faced with tough decisions. Sure they have flaws, but these people genuinely care for each other even though they live in the debauchery of 1930’s Paris. The three principal actors gave strong performances and the director let the story that covered a decade flow naturally. The scenes reminded me again of something old-fashioned: static camera shots with just enough going on in each scene to sketch out not only the plot but what is going on in the world around them ( World War II, which is important to the story).
I also applaud the director on his use of sexuality. There’s just enough sex in the movie to demonstrate the deep attraction Guy and Gilda have for each other, and while Gilda and Mia’s relationship is implied, it is never confirmed until Mia confesses to Guy during the Civil War (it is kept ambiguous perhaps because the story is told from the point of view of Guy, who is most definitely uncertain about what’s going on between the two women). In other words, nothing felt gratuitous. Well, you do see Theron’s boobies in one scene but the director mostly avoided adding anything unnecessary to the story.
As for the disc itself – talk about bare bones! Is the sound clear? Check. Is the picture sharp? Check. No audio commentaries are included and it features only one real extra: a very short “making of” featurette that is nothing to get excited about. How am I going to write two or three paragraphs about a DVD that features nothing to write about? I could commend them for including a bunch of previews, including the theatrical trailer for Head in the Clouds, and commend them for not having the disc set up so that I was forced to watch all the previews before beginning the movie. I could also complain because I had to hit “play” for each preview instead of hitting a “play all” selection.
I will take this second paragraph to editorialize on the decided lack of care for some movie releases. Why is it that a decent film like Head in the Clouds receives so little love and attention in DVD release while something as puerile as Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle gets oodles of goodies added to its release? Did nobody at Sony Classics appreciate this movie? Either they are gambling on a future special edition release, or they’ve decided it wasn’t worth the time and the money because they feel the movie will become obscure fast. The latter attitude, actually, is one I can understand because the biggest flaw with this film is in how slight it seems.
Despite the fact I am singing this movie’s praises, I did not give it more than 3 ½ stars for good reason. I enjoyed Head in the Clouds and I appreciate it for not wasting my time, but I sincerely doubt I’ll ever watch it again. It just didn’t grab me completely the way other movies do, and I’m not just saying that because I normally don’t like chick movies. I have cried through The English Patient more times than I care to admit, while The Year of Living Dangerously is one of those films I drag out every year to watch. If you are in lust with one of the principals I can see buying Head in the Clouds for your permanent collection. Otherwise, this movie makes a nice rental if you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned (new and improved with lesbians) love story set against the backdrop of World War Two.