Debbie at Moon in Gemini is hosting the “No, YOU’RE Crying!” Blogathon, and I thought I would be part of that amazing film race. It is great when a film is so powerful emotionally that it makes you cry, even though there may not be many films out there who possess this enviable quality. Of course, some films are heart-breaking in themselves, such as “Life is Beautiful” (1997), but there may also be others, which do not immediately make you weepy, but which through their moving ending or the heartfelt relationship/chemistry between characters, make you also want to cry. “Head in the Clouds” is such a film for me. It is a very underrated romantic drama set on the eve of the WWII, telling of a rich heiress Gilda Bessé (Charlize Theron), who refuses to face reality while being surrounded by her friends Guy (Stuart Townsend) and Mia (Penélope Cruz).
Head in the Clouds (2004)
The plot of the movie revolves around Gilda Bessé, a beautiful and carefree young woman who indulges in luxurious goods, foreign travels, and, of course, in men. At the University of Cambridge, she meets clever and idealistic Irishman Guy Malyon, whom she instantly describes as “beauty, bravery, and brains”. The two met when Gilda was making her “getaway” along the university corridors, and happened to pop into Guy’s “luxurious” first-year student’s room. Upon meeting, there is instantly a physical attraction between the two, and, later, the two set aside Gilda’s the-then boyfriend and the London-Paris distance to settle together in culturally-rich and enticing Paris. They do not do it alone, as Gilda also has a live-in girlfriend Mia, a former dancer, whom she describes as her “protégé”. The three seem to live happily together for awhile, until war knocks on their door, and Mia and Guy have to confront the reality, while Gilda, with her motto to live each minute of her life to the fullest, refuses to submit to the realities of war, including the duties and sacrifices it may entail.
The plot of the film could be seen as both preposterous and melodramatic, but there are many positive things there. The chemistry between Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend is great, maybe because the two were already a couple when filming of this film began. It is very easy to see how Gilda could have been attracted to this somewhat modest, unassuming, but intelligent and handsome Cambridge undergraduate, and it is also not too difficult to imagine how Gilda’s free-spirited and rebellious personality and beauty could have resulted in the young undergraduate falling in love with her. The erotic scenes between Guy and Gilda are nicely done, and the Gilda-Guy-Mia love triangle is well-explored. Another admirable thing here is Gilda’s character study. Everyone in the film is fascinated by her, and the audience will also not be immune. Theron portrays Gilda well, emphasising not only her free-spirited nature and charm, but also showing her as a damaged and vulnerable individual, as circumstances arise. Gilda, who wanted to be a ballerina and a painter when young, eventually settles for photography. She is going through life in a kind of a panic, as she describes, and it is interesting to see how her carefree views of the world soon accommodate and explain the war. Every person adapts to the changing circumstances differently, and Gilda’s choices may have been unconventional, but they definitely remained true to who she was, without compromises. Gilda is also a person who is used to toying with people and getting them do what she wants. However, because of the past prophecy made on her during her younger years, her unconventional family, childhood loses and her good intentions despite the appearances otherwise, the audience also get to sympathise with Gilda, and it is that very thing which makes the ending so emotionally moving and thought-provoking. That, and of course, her touching relationship with Guy and Mia; Gilda may have appeared that successful, care-free and egoistic person, but she has learnt her lesson well, and the film’s dramatisation of this towards the end is so powerful that it can bring tears to the eyes.
It is true that there are a lot of influences felt in this film, but the presentation and the setting of the film are still just beautiful. Historically, the film is quite interesting to watch, even though the portrayal of the historic events is cursory. Apart from all the romance in the film, there is also a lot of warfare shown, for example, when Mia works as a nurse at the military front or when Gilda’s boyfriend Major Franz Bietrich, played by the outstanding Thomas Kretschmann (“The Pianist” (2002)), gets to work on his captives. The cinematography of Paul Sarrosy is rich and visually striking. For example, the Paris art scene of the 1930s and the oncoming of the Spanish Civil War are both colourfully presented. The audience gets to see the Cambridge surroundings, take in the breath-taking views of Paris and London, and also visit posh Paris bars and stroll through beautiful Parisian gardens, when Gilda parties with Mia or when Guy decides to go for a walk. The music is also great in the film. For example, at the beginning, the film incorporates beautifully Jean Lenoir’s classic “Parlez-moi d’amour”, and when the trio of friends is in a Parisian jazz club, Django Reinhardt’s famous “Minor Swing” comes on, getting the audience to experience through gypsy jazz that slice of the Parisian music scene of the 1930s. However, the thing which makes this film so emotional is probably the moving waltz-like score composed by Terry Frewer. The soundtrack is beautiful and gets to convey clearly the characters’ feelings, including their high hopes and their eventual losses.
The true merit of the film may be difficult to assess because even though our objective side may shout that the film is silly and has too many clichés, our subjective side may just say that it is a film which is still interesting to see, beautiful to behold, and emotional to experience. Moreover, the film won quite a number of Genie Awards (Canada) in 2005, including the Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Original Score Awards. In that way, I agree with the late Roger Ebert, who gave this film a solid three out of four stars, saying that, despite the film’s numerous defects, this is exactly the kind of a film which one can indulge in and enjoy.
“Head in the Clouds” is not perfect. It is too theatrical in its presentation and gets overly melodramatic. However, the film also does what few movies do nowadays: it presents a love story which is actually believable, accompanied by beautiful settings and the music. The romance between Gilda and Guy in the film is heart-felt, and the moving ending can reduce people to tears. Given all this, “Head in the Clouds” is a very underrated film indeed. 7/10