Monday, November 30, 2009

Film Decade List #18: Far From Heaven

Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA, 2002)

Haynes ode to Sirkian melodrama is a fantastic film, from its performances to its look, all the while taking a slightly different route than Sirk's most memorable films. Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, a prototypical upper middle-class housewife in the 1950s with a nice house and a successful husband, played by Dennis Quaid. Cathy's life starts to spiral out of control after spotting her husband kissing another man one night. As Cathy's seemingly perfect life seems to becoming undone, she befriends her African-American gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). As the two begin to find a connection and friendship, the social taboo of a white woman and a black man being seen together creates some unintended dangers. Working with a strong influence from All That Heaven Allows, Haynes does a near perfect job of recreating the look and feel of Sirk's films. The cinematography is gorgeous, with rich, warm colors and with more realistic set pieces. The film also accurately portrays the social climate of the 50s, especially in regards to race and sexuality. Moore plays Cathy as a character ahead of her time, never comprehending the vitriol the community has towards her relationship with Raymond. In their relationship, Haynes is drawing a bit of influence from Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, which itself had a lot indebted to Sirk's films. The racial climate surrounding the characters in each are very similar. Moore carries the film on her strong-willed performance and there's no doubt that the effectiveness of Cathy makes or breaks the film. Everything about the film is done with a reverence toward the 50s melodrama that it works. But that it also a little more forthright in its examination of social issues of the time make Far From Heaven a remarkably perceptive film.

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