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In Cambridge in the 1920s, Guy (Stuart Townsend) an Irish student, meets the wealthy, free-spirited and beautiful Gilda (Charlize Theron). A few years later, he's living with her in Paris and assisting Gilda with her career as a photographer. Also part of the household is Gilda's "discovery", the Spanish nurse Mia (Penelope Cruz). For a while their life is idyllic, but as the political situation in Europe darkens, Guy and Mia's concern for society clashes with Gilda's desire to live for pleasure.

Review by Jake Wilson:
This heart-tugging epic has to be the most glamorous tale of self-sacrifice since Angelina Jolie played a United Nations representative in Lara Croft: Aid Worker (which also went by the title Beyond Borders). Set mostly in a fantasy version of Paris between the wars, it's one of those period pieces where country gardens, cobbled streets and soldiers' uniforms all look equally shiny and newly painted.

Nor do the characters have much more reality. Playing a convincing spoiled promiscuous passionate brittle arty flighty American heiress in Paris is probably too much to expect from anyone, and certainly Charlize Theron, who comes across here as a "celebrity" so wrapped up in her own 21st-century sexiness she might as well be a presenter on the MTV Music Awards. Stuart Townsend is dull and Penelope Cruz, as the most downtrodden member of the central love triangle, shows the zest for humiliating herself that's increasingly developed since she went to Hollywood.

And yet, unlike the Angelina Jolie disaster, Head In The Clouds is compelling on its own terms. Even at its most ridiculous it's a personal project for its writer and director John Duigan, whose preoccupations aren't those of the average 30-year-old Hollywood screenwriter. Still best-known for the films he made in Australia (Sirens, The Year My Voice Broke) Duigan returns here to one of his favorite themes, the struggle between an ideal of sexual liberation and a puritan conscience. Duigan may romanticise the generous love between his three main characters, but he doesn't shy away from showing the emotional price of their free-and-easy lifestyle. Indeed, a curious subplot involving a sadistic acquaintance hints (albeit ambiguously) that Gilda's cruel streak may be inseparable from both her generosity and her sexual allure.

The tension between wish-fulfilment and guilty moralising gives the film an interesting self-awareness: if the characters are knowingly participating in a sentimental fantasy, so is the filmmaker. Stylistically, the film keeps a certain distance from its own artifice, as if the drama were playing out on an elaborately dressed stage while the camera remained in the audience. Even the sex scenes are all about theatrical gestures (Theron grinding a man's chest with her heel, or pulling Townsend's head under her dress). From this angle even the unconvincing acting makes a certain sense, as if poses of abandonment or nobility were taken to be irresistible just because of their distance from "real" life.

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(USA/UK/Spain/Canada, 2004)

CAST: Charlize Theron, Penélope Cruz, Stuart Townsend, Thomas Kretschmann, Steven Berkoff, David La Haye, Karine Vanasse, Gabriel Hogan

PRODUCER: Bertil Ohlsson, Jonathan Olsberg, Jason Piette, André Rouleau, Maxime Rémillard

DIRECTOR: John Duigan

SCRIPT: John Duigan


EDITOR: Dominique Fortin

MUSIC: Terry Frewer


RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 9, 2005 (Melbourne & Perth)

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: September 21, 2005

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