FAR FROM HEAVEN
In the autumn of 1957 in Hartford, Connecticut, housewife and mother Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), is comfortable enough in her large home with a maid, Sybil (Viola Davis) and gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), but often lonely while her successful husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), works long, executive hours. Her life is thrown in turmoil when she finds her husband in the arms of another man. It is Raymond who offers her the warmth and friendship she craves, black and white donít mix well in the eyes of the bigoted community and Cathy is faced with life-size decisions.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Glowing with autumn from the fallen golden leaves to Cathyís failed marriage and her stunning 50s wardrobe, Far From Heaven is a giant, self confessed melodrama that is to swoon for: as American critics have. It is not merely set in the 50s, it affects the style of the 50s from opening title to closing credits design. If it werenít for the delicately poised performances at the centre of the film, it could have slipped into self indulgence, even though its themes are relevant, valid and important, whether in the context of the 50s or today. Indeed, thatís the rationale behind Todd Haynesí use of the period Ė to defuse the issues for us, sufficiently so that we donít get hysterical about them. That doesnít mean we are dispassionate viewers; he doesnít allow us that luxury. Far from it: it means we are more analytical of those themes. Haynes shows us some of the social mores of America in the 50s (and letís not get smug about this, folks, Europe and Australia were no more enlightened) and we cringe. Homosexuality was seen as probably a disease; blacks were openly marginalised and humiliated; kids were often left to smoulder best they could while busy parents ran cocktail parties . . . and white women with black men caused a public outcry. Of course, we knew that. And of course, a lot of this still goes on, but seeing it magnified through the aperture of the past and the trappings of a story that reaches out to us is jolting. Haynes comes dangerously close to suffocating his film with an abundance of colour and design, but again, the performances come to the rescue. Elmer Bernstein helps, too, with a score that ignores the stylistics to concentrate on the underlying emotions. With its perfect, warm, balanced, sensitive and widowed sole father-cum-tragically illicit romantic interest, Raymond, Far From Heaven may be a couple of sizes too big, but it certainly fits around the head and the heart.
Review by Louise Keller:
What a beautiful film! Visually sublime and evocative of an era gone by, Far From Heaven is a rich and powerful melodrama that touches on social issues of race, homosexuality and the role of women. The costumes are to die for, as is the production design: this is a movie where mood and nuance are as important as what actually happens. Itís as if Todd Haynes has found a 1950s canvas and imbued it with textures and colours. Each colour is echoed by similar and contrasting tones, but ultimately creates an intensely rich tapestry. The shades of the autumn leaves that are scattered on the ground are married into Julianne Mooreís dazzling costumes of waisted dresses with their full petticoats that look as though they make a swishing sound. Varying tones of ocre, rust, red, green, burgundy, mauve and pink resonate, just like her mauve chiffon scarf that is caught up in a gust of wind and dances a tango with the leaves in the trees. Emulating the style and palette of 50s filmmaker Douglas Sirk, whose films reflect stories of women in their domestic setting, Far From Heaven is all about appearances and the superficial. Emotions are curbed and seethe underneath like a bubbling undercurrent. Cathy is Mrs Pleasantville herself, the perfect wife Ė always understanding and never a hair out of place. Itís a haunting and superlative performance by Julianne Moore, building up to a satisfying crescendo Ė subtly, effectively, heartbreakingly. Dennis Quaid is superb as the troubled husband who canít curb his inner-most desires, and I especially enjoyed Viola Davisí maid Sybil, who sees and hears all but knows Ė and keeps - her place. Dennis Haysbertís Raymond offers a mix of Denzel Washington and Harry Belafonte charisma, and the scenes between Cathy and Raymond are steamy in their restraint. (A kiss on the hand is a powerful as an intimate bedroom scene, and Raymondís gentle caress of a garden rose becomes sensual.) The taboo subjects of racial discrimination and homosexuality are handled with kid gloves, allowing us to absolutely relate to the time and social conditions. After all, this was a time when just breathing the same air as someone of another race would contaminate, just as homosexuality was considered an illness that required treatment. In many ways, this is an old fashioned film Ė even the title credits could have been transported from the 50s, while Elmer Bernsteinís classical score melds the elements together. Beautifully judged with meticulous attention to detail, Far From Heaven is a treat, and one that lingers.
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FAR FROM HEAVEN (M)
CAST: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis. James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, Jordan Puryear
PRODUCER: Todd Haynes, Christine Vachon
DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
SCRIPT: Todd Haynes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Edward Lachman ASC
EDITOR: James Lyons
MUSIC: Elmer Bernstein
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 6, 2003