Head in the Clouds

Head in the Clouds

2004, R, 133 min. Directed by John Duigan. Starring Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, Thomas Kretschmann.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 15, 2004

Head in the Clouds, by writer-director John Duigan (Flirting, The Journey of August King), strives to address the big issues of war, passion, and conscience, but winds up with only attractive window dressing and abstractions that never manage to pass for reality. Set in Europe during the Thirties and early Forties, the film recounts the decade-long love affair between bohemian heiress Gilda (Theron) and Cambridge University student and anti-fascist Guy (Townsend). Other parties to their little circle of love are the stunning Spanish refugee Mia (Cruz), who shares a flat with them in Paris, and the Nazi major (Kretschmann), who keeps company with Gilda during the war years. The film does a decent job of conveying the explosive passions felt by these characters, but then repeatedly undercuts the mood by having them later restate the obvious. It’s the kind of movie in which characters stop in their tracks while luscious music swells, prolonging things that are already blatantly evident, as though the filmmaker doesn’t trust viewers to understand what they see and hear without reiterating it constantly. Townsend is excellent as the central character who has to develop from infatuated college student to besotted post-grad, and then driven anti-fascist who leaves his life of Parisian dilletantism with Gilda to join the anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War and later the British military in World War II. Cruz is dazzling as the physically and psychically damaged Spaniard who escaped Spain to study nursing in Paris and eventually return to her homeland – but not before engaging in her own love affair with Gilda. Oscar-winner Theron, however, seems miscast in this project. Her Gilda never achieves the comfortable naturalism that would have made this character believable. Duigan’s cinematic touchstones are clear: there are reverberations of Jules and Jim, Women in Love, The Conformist, and more in Head in the Clouds’ situations and imagery (although cinematographer Paul Sarossy’s camerawork is very evocative of Europe between the wars). Duigan has the makings of a good yarn, but instead of trusting the story and his characters, he becomes fatally bogged down in trying to make statements.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Charlize Theron Films
Long Shot
Timely political rom-com finds new common ground for opposites attracting each other

Kimberley Jones, May 3, 2019

Tully
Modern motherhood unraveled and rebuilt by the Young Adult team.

Richard Whittaker, May 4, 2018

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Pika pika pika? Pika pika pika pika pika pika pika.

May 10, 2019

Sunset
Period drama keeps the techniques of Oscar winner Son of Saul but loses the emotional weight

April 26, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Head in the Clouds, John Duigan, Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, Thomas Kretschmann

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle