Film — Head In The Clouds (R)

Head In The Clouds (R)

by Amy Diaz

Europe in the 1930s and its slide into World War II was just one kickin’ party after another, full of jaded and moneyed hipsters, swank clothes, threesomes and non-stop fun according to Head in the Clouds, an improbably silly melodrama.

Man, here I thought the war was all hardship and oppression and death at the hands of fascists. But as it turns out, World War II was really just fashion week with aristocracy. More aristocracy.

But, as is always true in life, there is a downside to all this high living, namely, that it takes so long to get there. First you have to wade through the decline that is Europe in the 1920s, then the rise of assorted dictatorships of the 1930s and only then do you get to the Big Fun of the war.

The movie begins shortly after the Earth’s crust cools with a scene of a young Gilda Besse getting her fortune read. The woman gives her a grave look and predicts great sadness in her 30s. What the audience doesn’t realize it that our journey to that point in Gilda’s life will seemingly happen in real time.

Of course, all is shiny, golden and not at all sad (at least on the surface) when we next see a young, golden Gilda (Charlize Theron) at Oxford. She’s not a student, just dating some landed rich boy. After a fight with him, she ducks security by hiding out in the room of the wide-eyed Irishman Guy (Stuart Townsend). He’s completely bewitched by her daring and charm and, er, blondeness. He officially kicks off a lifelong romance with her a few weeks later when he sees her (and has sex with her on a pool table) at a party at her boyfriend’s house. Gilda eventually dumps that boyfriend and flees to the continent but Guy hears from her periodically.

Eventually she settles in Paris and invites Guy to come and visit. Though Gilda is, at the time, dating an art gallery owner, she convinces Guy to come and live with her. Also sharing the apartment is Mia (Penelope Cruz) a wounded Spanish nursing student who is either a pet, a lover or both to Gilda. Despite the inherent weirdness, Guy moves in and the trio share a happy few years (the movie’s a little vague about how long though it seems like for-EV-er) but then Guy and Mia decide to head off to Spain to fight the fascists. ‘Cause, why not? The Spanish revolution was the It lost cause of its day, the movie seems to say. It was like the 1930s version of the Nader campaign.

After Guy and Mia share a little love among the ruins (of a farm house, of Spain, of their common sense), Mia dies, leaving Guy to grieve some MORE (he’s already all broken up about the loss of Gilda, who didn’t want them to join the war). So set in her anti-convictions conviction is Gilda that when Guy eventually returns to Paris, she turns her back on him.

Fast forward, again, and we are in the Paris of 1944, all occupied and no-fun for the freedom-loving members of the resistance. Gilda hasn’t let that get in her way, she’s made friends with a few of the Nazi officers and they keep her in chocolates and good wine. Guy, in the city to help the British prepare for invasion, is heartsick to see just how unprincipled his sweetie truly is and, despite the risk it brings to his mission, he tries to save her from herself.

There is so much I have left out. Side plots about unscrupulous or abusive boyfriends, Gilda’s many issues with her parents, Guy’s attempt’s at Gilda-free romance. Honestly, though, you don’t miss much when you miss these pieces of the movie. Though it only runs a little over two hours, the movie seems to last for years. Eventually, bored of watching Stuart Townsend look heartsick again, I started looking at the clothes. Huh, I remember thinking, that dress is cute. And wow, those shoes look nice, though rather hard to walk in. I wonder how they got their lipstick to stay on like that—I mean, that was 70 years ago and why does it seem like lipstick technology hasn’t really improved.

Other thoughts occurred to me too: How, if Cruz’s Mia has a bum leg, is she still able to be a burlesque dance? Why, if Gilda has a pantload of money from her wealthy parents, does she stay in Paris when the war comes? Why doesn’t Guy, being a cute Irishman and all, just date somebody else? And, of course, just how long is this movie going to be?

As endless and bad as the movie is while you’re watching it, it actually ripens into absurdity once it has ended. Attempts at a moral lesson seem as fake and out-of-nowhere as the happy-go-lucky fantasy Europe where the movie is set. Unlikable characters are, on reflection, truly horrible people that barely conceal their grotesqueness with all the pretty jewelry. And Guy, our Dudley Do-right lead, comes off as a real pantywaist.

I miss the J. Peterman catalog to but there’s no reason to make a movie out of it.

- Amy Diaz 

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