A Walk in the Clouds

1995, PG-13, 102 min. Directed by Alfonso Arau. Starring Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Anthony Quinn, Giancarlo Giannini, Angelica Aragon, Evangelina Elizondo.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Aug. 11, 1995

Describing his experiences in World War II to his new acquaintance Victoria Aragon (Sanchez-Gijon), Paul Sutton (Reeves) declares, “Once the shooting starts, you just go blank.” Never have I heard a more fitting description of Reeves' acting. How this overrated and monotonal actor could have been cast in director Arau's Hollywood debut is beyond me. A Walk in the Clouds marks Arau's follow-up to the much-acclaimed Like Water for Chocolate, whose blend of magical realism, comedy, and sensuality enthralled international audiences. Arau's second film contains a similar blend of these elements; it is a story of fate, love, and family honor. Based on the Italian film Four Steps in the Clouds, Arau's loose adaptation reflects the filmmaker's own Mexican roots. Taking place just after the end of the war, the film tells the tale of Paul's arrival home to San Francisco to a changed world and a wife who never read his letters. Disoriented and disheartened, he leaves the next day on a journey to gain some perspective about his future. A chance meeting on a train introduces him to Victoria, a master's candidate who's pregnant and abandoned with her professor's child. Paul is leaving his home; Victoria is returning to hers in the Napa Valley, a vineyard idyll owned by her tightly-knit Mexican family. The two devise a plan in which Paul poses as her husband, but their welcome is marred by Victoria's father Alberto (Giannini). A proud and decent man, he is nonetheless blinded by his own fears and prejudices, which results in profound consequences for the Aragon family fortune. A Walk in the Clouds has sweet moments of humor and sensuality interspersed among a few rather flat scenes. As the Aragon patriarch Don Pedro, Quinn is superb. Like a larger-than-life sprite, he coaxes and cajoles Paul into realizing his love for Victoria. Giannini is equally wonderful as a man of grand and passionate gestures, both in love and anger. Making her American debut, Sanchez-Gijon also gives an impressive performance. Despite Reeves' one-dimensional acting, there does exist a smoldering chemistry between the two actors. Luscious images by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki add to the sensuality of A Walk in the Clouds. But alas, Reeves sticks out like a bad grape in an otherwise acceptable harvest. Having taken this role to broaden his acting horizons, his gain is the film's loss. In one of the film's more poignant moments, Paul and Victoria toast to “what if.” Their toast is all the more bittersweet when applied to A Walk in the Clouds: what if someone else had been cast in place of Reeves? Here's to a somewhat flawed but enjoyable film, and to what-ifs.

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A Walk in the Clouds, Alfonso Arau, Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Anthony Quinn, Giancarlo Giannini, Angelica Aragon, Evangelina Elizondo

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