movie film review | chris tookey

Walk In The Clouds

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  Walk In The Clouds Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
5.83 /10
Keanu Reeves , Giancarlo Giannini , Anthony Quinn
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Directed by: Alfonso Arau
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen, Mark Miller, Harvey Weitzman , based on the Italian film Quatro Poassi Fra Le Nuvole

Released: 1995
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 135

Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves, pictured right) returns from the Second World War plagued by black and white flashbacks.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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His wife (Debra Messing) has not bothered to read his letters and is therefore not there to greet him off the boat. Still, he accepts her apologies and those nasty flashbacks - which have no relevance to the story, and look as if they were shot on the Twentieth Century Fox back lot - with good-natured stoicism, and goes on the road to pursue his pre-war career as a chocolate salesman.

You'd think that after Speed, Keanu would know better than to get on another bus; but he does, and - what do you know? - a beautiful young woman called Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, pictured left) bumps into him and drops her things. He helps pick them up, and their eyes meet. He protects her from some awful ruffians who chat her up, and he is thrown off the bus. Rounding a verdant corner, he comes across Victoria, beautifully backlit but sobbing on her suitcase because she is returning pregnant and husbandless to her wine-growing, Hispanic family. Keanu, who is more soft-centred than a box full of raspberry truffles, says he'll be her "husband" for a day and then do a moonlight flit, thus rehabilitating her in her family's eyes as a woman wronged.

So far, so just about okay. The screenplay has been of that banal, mini-series kind where everyone says exactly what they think, and in triplicate, in case you're not paying attention or needed to pop out periodically to feed the cat.

It's when they hit the vineyard that the real trouble starts. Where there has been a modicum of realism before, Arau chooses to shoot the Napa Valley as if it's Shangri-La, full of jolly peasants beaming beatifically and doing Busby Berkeley routines in the wine vats. It's The Grapes of Froth.

The wine-growing metaphors are soon fermenting to new extremes of tastelessness (this is a place where even the people have roots). Everyone starts overacting, except Keanu who could hardly look more stunned if he had been hit over the head by a can of Diet Pepsi.

Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, a Spanish actress with the luminous good looks of Madeleine Stowe, has to do the acting for both of them, and does her best under impossible circumstances. It's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy when she demands "Why must everything be a drama?"

The reason why everything has to be a drama - or, in this movie, melodrama - is that the director hasn't a clue of how to direct actors. The result is a fiesta of bad acting. As the heroine's ogre-father, Giancarlo Giannini leaves no patch of vineyard unchewed , and gets to deliver such classic rebukes to Gringo Reeves as "Don't theenk because I speak with an accent that I theenk with an accent!"

Every time Reeves tries to escape from all the local colour, he is impeded by Anthony Quinn, the heroine's cheerfully drunken, suspiciously Zorba-like grandfather, who spouts platitudes under the mistaken impression that he is being lovable, and gives his most tiresome performance in years. It's proof that only he who dares, Quinns; and he who Quinns, loses.

But the all-comers' award for worst acting must go to poor Keanu. Any actor might have problems with such doubtful Forties dialogue like "In the war, y'know, I had time to think", let alone sentiments as stilted as "I know she is good and strong and deserves all the love this world has to give". But his delivery is so thoroughly flat, modern and lobotomised, the most charitable conclusion would be that he has been replaced by a robotic replica of himself.

He has given rotten performances before in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado and Coppola's Dracula, but nothing as rancid as this. Keanu looks homeless and hopeless, the world's first victim of marital grape.

Perhaps his problem is lack of sleep. No one gets time to nap in Napa Valley. No sononer have our hero and heroine tumbled into bed after a hard day's vat-dancing, than a bell is clanging and people are screaming "Frost! Frost!" By this time, nothing could surprise us, and we half-expect the arrival of Sir David with a camera crew or a new consignment of castanets, but no - it's simply a cue for everyone to light stoves, don translucent wings to prance through the vines and fan heat on them. Presumably intended to be erotic and magical, the sequence resembles instead the out-takes from an Isadora Duncan biopic. It looks as risible as it is risky - an impression confirmed by the film's fiery climax, which makes the bombing of Dresden appear restrained.

My advice would be to see this movie. If you're in an uncritical, slushy mood, the film is fundamentally good-hearted and explores - on the most wildly operatic level - our deepest emotions about love and family. It makes The Sound of Music look like social realism. If you are willing to check your brain in at the door, you will be swept along by the romance.You may even think Keanu is cute.

Produced by the Zucker Brothers, whose previous effort was that uninentional Arthurian comedy, First Knight, this was the first Hollywood movie by 63 year-old director Alfonso Arau, whose lyrical melodrama Like Water For Chocolate became one of the most successful foreign-language films of all time.

A Walk in the Clouds goes even further over the top. There is scarcely a frame which is not glimpsed through a golden filter, a sky not lurid enough to have been ripped out of Gone With The Wind. Virtually every line of dialogue is accompanied by heart-tugging music - either from veteran composer Maurice Jarre or a gang of grinning Mariachis who pop up at the drop of a sombrero, to serenade the two central lovers.

Those who attend in a more cynical spirit will appreciate its surreal awfulness. I gather it is a travesty of Alessandro Blasetti's neo-realistic original from 1942, Four Steps in the Clouds. It is certainly the kind of stupendously, awesomely tasteless movie you remember, and chuckle over, long after the good ones have faded from memory.

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