Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes’ masterful tribute to Douglas Sirk could well have been called The Fall of Cathy Whittaker. When we first see Cathy, she is the perfect housewife, the perfect suburban mother, devoted to her children (though Haynes has some fun with Cathy and Frank’s attitude to their children), more than attentive to her husband, and planning her annual party with her friend Eleanor (played by Patricia Clarkson in a pitch-perfect performance). At the end of the movie, as she stands looking forlornly at a departing train, she has no husband, no money and most importantly, no standing in the frosty narrow society that she lives in. As Cathy’s life unravels, Haynes, while maintaining the same visual style as that of a Sirkian melodrama, manages to bring to the surface all the subtext in Sirk’s films. It is the perfect deconstruction, cerebral, yet at the same time, heartbreakingly visceral.

The power of Far From Heaven lies in the fact that it works equally well, even when the viewer has no idea of who Sirk is. (me, for example). The characters talk in stilted, frustrating euphemisms, never once spelling out what’s on their mind, yet Elmer Bernstein’s matchless score, which runs beneath nearly every scene is more than equal to the task of supplying the emotions that are running amok. Moore, who is in almost every scene, is brilliant. She works within the conventions of the tear-jerker but what she does with her role goes beyond melodrama. True to the times that the movie takes place in, Haynes doesn’t waste much sympathy on Quaid’s character, a closeted homosexual. Yet Frank’s agony and rage come through, especially in the scene where he breaks down and admits to his wife that he has fallen in love with another man. The movie’s most tenderly realized relationship is the one between Cathy and her black gardener (played by Dennis Haysbert). It is here that Moore’s finely realized performance is at its devastating best.

(How does Moore do it? She has now played three different variations of a suburban housewife; earlier in Haynes' Safe and the more recent The Hours, yet she manages to be different every time. Plus she's played a porn star in Boogie Nights, the devious Mrs. Cheveley in An Ideal Husband, a woman struggling with her faith and love in The End of the Affair and Yelena in Vanya on 42nd Street! And each one of them is amazingly done!)

Here is an interview that Moore and Haynes did with the Guardian. Also A.O. Scott's superb review of Far from Heaven in the New York times (my favorite Scott review!!) and Peter Bradshaw's review in the Guardian

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