Far From Heaven

Far From Heaven

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Though it might seem a strangely uncontroversial story for this uncompromising director, Far from Heaven is every inch a Todd Haynes movie, and one of his best. On the surface a conventional study of a failing marriage and forbidden love in Fifties America, it reaches much deeper to explore controversies past and so examine the very roots of prejudice. Central to this is a brilliant performance by Julianne Moore. So often wooden in other people's films, she really seems to come alive with Haynes; although her character is desperately repressed, her desperation is skillfully wrought. The remarkable pace of Cathy's existencee, brought to life through a clever script and precise, almost nervous direction, means she has little time for her marriage even before she becomes aware that things are going wrong; the same is true of her husband (Dennis Quaid's best role for a long time); so that they seem almost predestined to suffer, because they are living an American Dream. Nobody can achieve such a delightful image of perfection and retain the time and energy to actually enjoy it.

The first thing which strikes one about Far from Heaven is Haynes' wonderful use of colour, with reds and golds radiating everywhere, complimenting the heroine's clothes and hair and rendering her a part of the magnificent garden where she is to rediscover her capacity to feel. This colour, of course, varies with the season, and the seasons are used unabashedly as a metaphor for what is happening in her marriage. Her reaction upon discovering her husband's attraction to other men is one of utter horror, yet the script is so delicately judged as to avoid alienating a modern audience; likewise, it does an impressive job of explaining the level and nature of prejudice aimed at the black man with whom she develops a passionate friendship. The eponymous lost paradise is not only the ideal of marriage, but the ideal of civilisation, the apparently charming neighbourhood and society in which these characters dwell. Yet this is a mature film, not one struggling insistently to fight the power. Each character has to weigh up different priorities, which sometimes necessitates allowing prejudice to win. The only real victories come in the form of personal awareness.

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Far from Heaven looks ravishing, and is surprisingly moving, for all it deals with familiar issues. It's a fine example of intelligent film-making, and deserves to be more widely seen.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Sexuality and stigma in 1950s America.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Todd Haynes

Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Bette Henritze

Year: 2002

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

All That Heaven Allows
The Hours