Why anyone thought this title suitable for a complex romantic thriller I can
only guess: the central character, the flighty, ravishing Gilda Besse'
(Charlize Theron), has no concern for anything that limits her pleasures and,
while her closest friends (and lovers) are making serious commitments in
response to the threat of fascism, she maintains her socialite amusements and
keeps her "Head in the Clouds." Which seems a title borrowed from some
Disney fantasy rather than applying to the wartime tragedy that is attempted
The daughter of a French aristocrat raised by an American mother, Cambridge
University student Gilda, has garnered a reputation for campus scandal.
Irish born Guy (Stuart Townsend - Theron's real life squeeze), on the other
hand, is a struggling student on scholarship and is of a more serious nature.
So, when his Cambridge dorm door flies open one rainy night in 1933, and the
notorious Gilda herself asks for shelter, his world is rocked. He sensibly
makes no moves on her when she stays the night, giving her attraction to him
a basis of credibility when the sex sparks fly later.
But she's a wanderlust kind of gal and this coupling, good as it is, doesn't
keep her restrained. She leaves town and he doesn't hear from her until
three years later when she invites him to Paris. By this time she has
attained enough interest in her photography to have a gallery show of her
work. Of course, some of the credit for this recognition is marred by the
fact that she's living with the gallery owner. She's also living with Mia
(Penelope Cruz) and, apparently, sharing her bed with her, as well. Guy
takes his place in the ménage and within the energy aura that is Gilda.
Before this becomes a chapter in a Harlequin novel, geo-political events
begin to affect the happy arrangement. Gilda dumps the gallery owner but
now, in 1936, Spain becomes embroiled in Civil War, with Franco's fascists
making gains and driving the story into the Serious and the Momentous.
Spanish Mia and American Guy leave Gilda to her own devices as they insert
themselves into the conflict, he as a Republican volunteer, she as a nurse.
Gilda is left to struggle with the pain of her pals leaving her so alone.
After the Nazis occupy France, Guy returns, working as a key agent in British
intelligence but still very much carrying the torch for his old flame. But
Gilda has taken a new lover, Major Thomas Bietrich, a Nazi officer (Thomas
Kretschmann) who is a mighty dangerous competitor for Gilda's attentions, if
Obviously, this scenario has its head in something more substantial than
puffy floating things in the sky, but it unfortunately loses itself in heavy
fog. It's constructed to draw us in with engaging, decadent characters who
might have been extras in Cabaret, and then drags us before the hammer blow
of The Meaningful.
Theron's glamorous siren with a vivacious magnetism, stylish misbehavior and
unshakeable loyalty, shows that she's more than a Dietrich or Davis wannabe.
Cruz adds an exotic energy to her role as lesbian lover. Townsend as the man
in the middle is handsome, appealing, and a bit too pensive, or relaxed, to
bring the sexual tension to much of a boil. Kretschmann seems to be
repeating his sympathetic Nazi officer from "The Pianist" (Captain Wilm Hosenfeld).
Writer-director John Duigan ("Paranoid," "The Journey of August King") takes us
on unexpected paths but what might have been a colorful journey ends up
underwhelmingly episodic and contrived. His tendency toward stories dense
with detail and surprising turns of event and character development
demonstrates an interesting dramatic intent but this trail of laughter and
tears doesn't manage to nail it. Cinematographer Paul Sarrosy captures the
glamour and militarism of the 40's with a master's palette and a fine range
~~ Jules Brenner