Head in the Clouds (7/10)

by Tony Medley

I liked the way this film starts, with old newsreel shots of Paris in the ‘20s and ‘30s, then switching to a black and white street scene that slowly dissolves into color.

Gilda Bessé (Charlize Theron) is a sexually liberated woman of the ‘30s who meets Guy (Stuart Townsend) while in an affair with another man and they fall for each other. Although they’re often apart and although Gilda is always involved with another man, they finally hook up in Paris where Gilda is an up and coming star due to her unusual photography. She and Guy live together with the Spanish Mia (Penélope Cruz), one of Gilda’s models. When Guy and Mia go off to the Spanish Civil War, it ticks Gilda off. Then World War II comes to Paris along with the Nazis.

Like many films, this one idealizes the Spanish Civil War. If anyone is interested in what it was really like to be an idealistic leftist fighting with the International Brigade of the Republican Army, read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (which you can do free online; here’s the link http://www.george-orwell.org/Homage_to_Catalonia/). Guy’s experience isn’t anything like what Orwell describes. As far as the Spanish Civil War goes, this film really does have its head in the clouds.

Gilda’s philosophy of life is summed up in a line she tells Guy, “I never much liked my own company, you know that.” As a result her life is a series of sexual escapades, which disdains Guy’s obvious love and devotion. This film is consistent with many modern films in that sex is simply something everyone does without commitment or consequence.

I’ve been a fan of Theron, but she drops the ball for me here. During much of the movie her character is not credible for me. Beautiful as she is, her lines, her actions, her personality just don’t seem right, until the end of the movie when she is right on. Gilda is to money born, beautiful, talented, and ostensibly bright. Her outlook on life has obviously been shaped by a selfish, apparently oversexed father, Charles (Steven Berkhoff), shown in a very short segment in the middle of the film.

Guy, on the other hand, lives as vacuous a life as one could imagine. The son of a policeman, although a graduate of Cambridge University, he has no visible means of support, seemingly no goal in life other than the pursuit of Gilda.  Despite his apparent lack of an income (oh, he does eventually start working for Gilda), he’s always well dressed and has no problem gallivanting off to fight in Spain.

What I did like about the movie was the way it captured the ‘30s and wartime Paris, which seems right on. Perplexing as the characters are, the story is involving and the ending as the Allies drive the Nazis out of Paris is thought-provoking.

September 9, 2004

The End