September 19, 2009

Head in the Clouds (2004)

My Ratings:
Production Design (wardrobe/hair+makeup & set design & milieu) = 8
Performances/Direction = 5.5
Last week I sat down to watch, with high hopes, the sweeping [war] epic Head in the Clouds (2004) and after two agonizing hours, am sad to have to report back to you that it was....not good. I am sad because this story had such extraordinary potential - compelling characters with complex [love] lives set against the theatre of two wars (Spanish Civil War and WWII). Plus, the actors cast are all good actors! Everyone delivered convincing performances. And yet, in spite of everything, somehow it just...failed. Or, fell flat at best.

But hey, at least they looked pretty.


The story centers around three lovers, Gilda (Charlize Theron), Mia (Penélope Cruz), and Guy (Stuart Townsend) in the 1930s up through the end of WWII. It begins with an effervescent Gilda chancing upon shy, virginal Guy one stormy night while they were both students at Cambridge and follows them to Paris where a sultry Mia is added into the mix, thus creating a very unconventional ménage à trois, and then to the desolate snow-laden battlefields of Spain during the Spanish Civil War and finally back to Paris for the German occupation of France.

You too can look nerdy and naive by brushing your bangs forward and slapping on a bow-tie and sweater vest.

Does my head-to-toe magenta outfit scare you, virginal freshman?

I am cute as a button!

But I can also be fierce!

(Love that camel colored coat. thought it was leather at first but it's not.)

So fierce!

Gilda is the girl who we all secretly kind of wish we could be for a day - tall, blond, gorgeous, and wealthy. She's brazenly bisexual, fiercely feminist, defiantly artistic and oh, she lives in Paris, works as a photographer, and spends her nights dancing the tango with her lesbian lover in seedy smoke-laced cafes.


Check out the back to this mustard colored velvet dress.


Check out the back to this dress.

When you live in France, it is mandatory that you own at least two dozen berets in various colors.

And a collection of artsy, whimsical hats.

Gorgeous wine colored suit worn with long black leather gloves.

Loving the sheen and the ribbed texture of the suit fabric.

Actually, Gilda wears quite a lot of suits. It's interesting because while a lot of her outfits have that masculine edge, they still look very sexy and feminine on her. Expressive and empowering are two words that come to mind. A bit Marlene Dietrich.



I want to BE you, Gilda. No, on second thought, I'll just take your camera instead.

Going all sort of crazy over that leather camera bag!

Ignore that hideous puke-green+brown wool dress her assistant is wearing and focus on Gilda's low-cut gray velvet double breasted suit.

She may even look better here than the model.

She wears this headscarf so well.

Here's a shot of the rest of the outfit.

In the "3rd phase" of the story, we see Gilda abandon her pants-suits in favor of more traditional dresses that emphasized her femininity. We can look at this outward shift as a parallel to an inner shift where she no longer upholds the kind of control she had over herself, over her relationships, and over her "fate" as the movie would like you to believe before the Nazis invaded France.


Pretty floral dress + ivory chiffon scarf + hat.

Tiny hat. Love the earrings + necklace.

On the arm of a Nazi.


She's actually using cream to take off the line drawn on the back of her legs to mimic the appearance of hosiery. A lot of women during the war era did that due to a shortage of stockings.

Are you swooning over her hair yet?

You should be!

Channeling Veronica Lake.

It's hard to describe Gilda's "transformation" without giving away the twist to the movie, as if it wasn't blatantly transparent already. This movie is so predictable you have to inhale half a box of cinnamon toast crunch just to keep from falling asleep...oh no? the phagocytic cereal eating was just me?
- - - - -

And because Stuart Townsend's character Guy is totally and utterly boring, I'm going to unapologetically skip over him and move onto Penelope Cruz's Mia.

I mean, just look at this face!

And this body!

And this attitude!

Even though she was only in a third of the movie, Penelope Cruz carried her part as the crippled lesbian lover/muse to Charlize Theron's Gilda well. She was the only redeeming feature in this ridiculous melodramatic saga.



- - - - -
Moving on, lastly, to the set. I know that much of it was shot on location in Paris but some of the exteriors looked as if they were recreated in a sound stage. In fact, it looked like something out of An American In Paris (1951). And I’m left to question – Why? Was there some deeper, artistic significance that I'm not catching? Look, there's not a speck of dirt on those fake cobblestones and the ballerinas appear out of place. Did someone just say, "let's condense all the possible stereotypes you might encounter on a Parisian street together, side by side within this small stretch of 20 meters!" Because that's what it looks like and the resulting mise-en-scène is both awkward as it is artificial. Actually, you could use those two words to describe the entire film altogether.


Just take a look at how this shot is lit and you see what I mean. Doesn't this scream 1950s Gene Kelly musical? I feel like he should break out in song and dance routine any second. And the ballerinas are already perfectly positioned to join in the musical interlude!


Here are some shots of Gilda/Mia/Guy's apartment in Paris. It's actually very cute.


The spiral staircase confused me because I never once saw it used. All the action took place on the first level.

Their kitchen. Nice blue tiles over the stove.


What is up with this lighting?? I can't get over it. It's just so harsh and poorly executed!

Loved the sunburst sculpture on the console table.

I don't know why but that ostentatious coat+hat rack (left) kind of appeals to me. I generally make it a rule that if something looks like it could belong in Donatella Versace's home, then it should never pass the threshold into mind. But oddly enough, I'm liking that gnarly piece.


Bedroom. I like the dried roses in that silver vase on her vanity.

Gorgeous green silk embroidered bedspread.

I want that peacock lamp! (right)

And finally, my favorite set piece - french doors with gorgeous peacocks painted over the glass.

Also, I just discovered that the director for this picture was John Duigan, the same man who ruined Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) for me. Double fail, John.


You have me so intrigued now I have to do some research on this film. Especially since I've never heard of it. I mean it must be bad if a movie with those two Academy Award nominated (and won?) actress and one's fiance didn't make it into the tabloids or entertainment press enough for me to see it.

By the way, John Duigan did direct one of my favorite films, Australia's Flirting, but that WAS over 15 years ago, I think.

Isaspacey - Head in the Clouds was barely advertised. I think I might've seen one commercial about it when it first got released but then obviously it was quickly pulled from theaters and slapped onto DVD. I can see why Charlize and Penelope would sign onto a project like this though. It had just didn't live up to it. I haven't seen Australia's Flirting but now you've got ME intrigued!

Oops, before you go searching in vain, the movie's name is "Flirting", but it's based in Australia and stars Noah Taylor and Thandie Newton when they were teenagers. Also Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts have small parts.

lsaspacey - Thanks for the correction! I love movies that feature now well known actors back before they made it big. And I adore Thandie I REALLY must hunt this down!

Hi, been reading your blog for a while and enjoy it :) btw, the sunburst sculpture is actually a monstrance, a receptacle used to display communion wafers on the tabernacle in Catholic Churches :). We always did have a thing for pomp and circumstance. Sometimes I think the Spaniards successfully converted us (I'm Filipina) because we liked the theatricality of it all :P

Have you reviewed Evil Under the Sun? Agatha Christie movie, with Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, I think that'd be right up your alley :)

hikagirl - thanks for the info about the monstrance! i didn't know that and i'm so glad you told me. i love learning new things. :-)

i haven't seen Evil Under the Sun but i'm going to add it to my list now!

Hello - I'm Anon only since my kids took my google and yahoo accounts over so I cant set up anything to officially follow blogs...too much boring info. Sorry. Just thought you'd like to know.

Love this new post and I will get husband to watch this with me as I can merely say "Menage" and he'll say "OK!" I love love the shots you feature so now I will find it necessary to watch it in insipid, action. Thank you for sharing.

Kate in Reno
a.k.a. Anon :)

WOW. This movie is BEAUTIFUL to look at. Thanks for saving me the trouble of watching it. Also, I really want the hair, make up, and costume team to live in my closet.

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