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Head in the
Within the last generation or two, television has
irrevocably changed the idea of war in the public consciousness. While combat may remain
thousands of miles away, television coverage has brought it right into our living rooms
with its graphic images of death, destruction, and despair. Before, especially in the
United States, protected as it is by two vast oceans, boys were sent off to distant
battlefields and returned (if they returned) as seasoned men who had seen something of the
world. Several years after this first encounter, Gilda invites Guy to
Paris where she has become a successful photographer and is living with an
on-again-off-again lover, the gimpy Mia (Penelope Cruz). The Gilda/Guy romance resumes,
though hardly on a monogamous basis on her side. Guy has been a Republican sympathizer in
the escalating Spanish Civil War and Mia becomes a nurse so that she can return to her
native Spain and help; they leave together. When Guy returns to Paris, Gilda rejects him.
For those who didn't experience it directly, war was all to easy to
romanticize--a great adventure laced with patriotic idealism and the glory of heroism.
Movies about the two World Wars, in particular, often romanticized and sentimentalized
these wrenching historical traumas rather than rendering them with the irrationality,
futility and horror of reality. With the advent of television and the resulting altered
audience perception, some more recent films have gotten closer to the gritty realities (The
Thin Red Line, Full
Metal Jacket) while others (Charlotte
Pearl Harbor) seem like anomalies, recently created artifacts with the
mindset of half a century ago.
Head in the Clouds fits firmly in the latter category.
Writer/director John Duigan (Molly,
Dogs) traces the relationship between wealthy, amoral Gilda Besse (Charlize
Theron) and idealistic working-class Irishman, Guy (Stuart Townsend), from when they meet
at Cambridge in 1933 through World War II. According to the events on the screen, the sex
between them was hot ("Our bodies were good together," she says at one point),
but there's precious little screen chemistry between these two young stars.
When World War II breaks out, Guy becomes a spy for the British,
working with the French underground in Paris. Gilda is living with a Nazi officer. Only if
this heavy-handed plotting doesn't sound thoroughly preposterous to you will you want to
see the film to find out what happens. Head in the Clouds, spanning more than two
decades of history, is plot-heavy and character light.
Theron lends credence here to those who think that her performance in Monster was a prosthesis-assisted
one-note one shot, Academy award or no. The script provides her the occasional snappy
line, but her delivery is at the high school play level and the snap emerges as droop.
It's not entirely her fault that the character as written is so thoroughly unlikable--a
beautiful, spoiled, shallow woman who plumbs new depths of self-centered selfishness. Plot
developments try to inject a character change, but neither the plot nor the acting can
save her from ultimate vapidity.
Guy, on the other hand, remains the same idealistic puppy throughout,
apparently enslaved by sexual attraction--why else would a smart guy like him keep coming
back to the likes of her? Townsend (About
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is a charmer stuck here in a charmless mess.
The movie looks good, with lavish period interiors and costuming,
occasionally intercut with footage from the periods covered for a note of authenticity.
Period music on the soundtrack adds significantly to the atmosphere. Duigan has the
instincts of a voyeur, inserting mildly kinky sex scenes, but they come off as both tired
and irrelevant. Like the overall idea of exploiting the horrors of war to tell a shallow
love story, the sexual mindset seems very 1952.
- Arthur Lazere