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In the autumn of 1957 in Hartford, Connecticut, housewife and mother Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), is comfortable enough in her large home with a servant, Sybil (Viola Davis) and gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), but often lonely while her successful husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), works long, executive hours. Her life is thrown in turmoil when she finds her husband in the arms of another man. It is Raymond who offers her the warmth and friendship she craves, black and white donít mix well in the eyes of the bigoted community and Cathy is faced with life-size decisions.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Glowing with autumn from the fallen golden leaves to Cathyís failed marriage and her stunning 50s wardrobe, Far From Heaven is a giant, self confessed melodrama that is to swoon for: as American critics have. It is not merely set in the 50s, it affects the style of the 50s from opening title to closing credits design.†

This mood is captured well even on the DVDís navigation areas, but I find it irritating that a feature like the Q & A is simply shoved into the menu without either identifying the moderator or the event, which was taped (not brilliantly). (There is just a thank you card at the end, which doesnít really satisfy on that score.) To make things worse, the 5 minute featurette is overlayed with scene clips, a practice that should be banned for DVD content. The film is on the disc, stupid!

Transfer quality is a high 9 Mbps, which is required for a film of such luscious images and subtle soundscape.†

Of the extra features, The Sundance Channel-produced Anatomy of a Scene (about 26 minutes) is the most interesting and best produced; I suggest you see it first so it doesnít feel repetitive. The focus of attention is the party scene, but there are asides and references to other aspects of the film.

The 11 minute Making Of featurette suffers from the same flaw as the Q & A; it regurgitates the story in short grabs with colour comments from Todd Haynes, but it is clearly the fluffy EPK (Electronic Press Kit) made for a freeby slot on late night tv. Itís a shame that a film with so much to talk about is supported by such flimsy material. Youíll have to go to Todd Haynesí commentary for some genuinely interesting content.

Haynes sets the film in the context of his admiration of Douglas Sirkís filmmaking style (as well as Fassbinder)ís, and despite a rather flat tone to his vocal delivery, he manages to maintain interest and throws in more than the obligatory backslapping remarks (though he does that, too). His commentary helps deepen our appreciation of the many elements Ė from the layered script to the creative and technical aspects - that make this a splendid film.†

If it werenít for the delicately poised performances at the centre of the film, it could have slipped into self indulgence, even though its themes are relevant, valid and important, whether in the context of the 50s or today. Indeed, thatís the rationale behind Todd Haynesí use of the period Ė to defuse the issues for us, sufficiently so that we donít get hysterical about them. That doesnít mean we are dispassionate viewers; he doesnít allow us that luxury. Far from it: it means we are more analytical of those themes. Haynes shows us some of the social mores of America in the 50s (and letís not get smug about this, folks, Europe and Australia were no more enlightened) and we cringe. Homosexuality was seen as probably a disease; blacks were openly marginalised and humiliated; kids were often left to smoulder best they could while busy parents ran cocktail parties . . . and white women with black men caused a public outcry. Of course, we knew that. And of course, a lot of this still goes on, but seeing it magnified through the aperture of the past and the trappings of a story that reaches out to us is jolting. Haynes comes dangerously close to suffocating his film with an abundance of colour and design, but again, the performances come to the rescue. Elmer Bernstein helps, too, with a score that ignores the stylistics to concentrate on the underlying emotions. With its perfect, warm, balanced, sensitive and widowed sole father-cum-tragically illicit romantic interest, Raymond, Far From Heaven may be a couple of sizes too big, but it certainly fits around the head and the heart.

Published July 10, 2003

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CAST: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis. James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, Jordan Puryear

DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes

SCRIPT: Todd Haynes

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16x9; DD 5.1 & 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Directorís Commentary; Q & A with Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore; Making of; Anatomy of a Scene

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: July 9, 2003

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