A man in search. A woman in need. A story of fate.
Keanu Reeves stars in this old-fashioned love story set in lovely Napa Valley after World War II. Beautifully filmed and well-acted, A Walk in the Clouds will enchant sentimental viewers, though its thick and sticky romance and predictable plot may seem stifling to others.
Facts of the Case
Paul Sutton returns from the war eager to get to know his wife, whom he met and married shortly before shipping out. He's a little disappointed to discover that she hasn't read his daily letters, but he obediently if somewhat sadly goes back to work as a traveling candy salesman, in order to buy his bride the "things, lots of things" that she demands.
On the road, Paul meets Victoria Aragón, a charming damsel in despair. She is returning from graduate school to her family's vineyards in Napa Valley. Victoria has a secret tragedy, and when fate keeps Paul crossing her path, she shares it with him. She is pregnant and unmarried, and expects no grace from her father when he finds out. Paul gallantly offers a remedy: he will pose as her new husband, then "desert" her after the first day, thus sparing her the stigma of motherhood without marriage.
Paul's first impression of the family's vineyards, named Los Nubes ("The Clouds"), is of ethereal glory. This valley is fantastically lush and magnificent, lit with a dusky golden glow. But Victoria's father, Alberto, meets our hero with rifle in hand, and is clearly not pleased at being the last to hear of his daughter's wedding. Not pleased at all. When Paul murmurs, "It'll be okay" to Victoria, Alberto bellows, "Like hell, it'll be okay!"
But Alberto's resentful blustering can't blind Paul to the fact that Victoria has the very thing he's always wanted: a family. Paul's war-inspired nightmares blend disturbingly with memories of his childhood orphanage home. Even the elder Aragóns' constant meddling in their children's lives seems enviable to him. But this is not his family, as Alberto constantly reminds him, and after all, he has a wife to get home to.
So everything goes as planned, and Paul returns home to his materialistic wife and lives sadly ever after.
No, not really. You didn't fall for it, did you? Me neither. As you have no doub guessed, a number of things interfere with Paul's plan, including the intervention of Alberto's affable father Don Pedro, who takes a liking to the young man; the grape harvest, with which the ever-honorable Paul feels obligated to help; and of course, the growing attraction between Paul and Victoria.
Alfonso Arau, director of Like Water for Chocolate, has constructed another stunning piece of visual art in A Walk in the Clouds. Romance and tradition, twin themes of his work, entwine in a story that is as predictable as the rhythms of planting and harvest.
Forget Keanu Reeves; the real star of this film is the cinematography. Every shot is composed with a painter's eye for composition and color. The aesthetically perfect world of Los Nubes is perpetually aglow with the warm light of an autumn sunset, or dramatic moonlight. The palatial architecture of the family's manor house adds to the impression of Napa Valley as a sort of enchanted kingdom. After Los Nubes, the rest of Paul's world seems bleak by comparison, in a manner subtly reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. At the other end of the spectrum, Paul's nightmares are filmed in washed-out tones, like grimy, faded photographs.
As befits such a beautiful picture, the transfer is commendable in its quality. Colors are rich and true, and I detected minimal print defects and no artifacting. At the beginning of the film, during a black and white sequence, I was alarmed to see a shower of flecks and what appeared to be a flickering water stain on the left side of the screen; however, I quickly realized that this was a deliberate attempt to create the effect of an antique film reel.
The soundtrack is likewise clear and clean. Dialogue is easy to understand, even when spoken by characters with strong Spanish accents, and the sentimental score comes through admirably. However, little use is made of the surround capabilities throughout the movie.
The role of Paul Sutton could have been written for Keanu Reeves (Speed, The Matrix), whose innate vapidity works in his favor here. Paul is a simple soul, naïve and rather passive, in contrast with the loud, colorful intensity of the Aragón family. Their identities are clearly defined for them through their family roles, while Paul is still trying to find his place in the world. The air of innocent bewilderment that comes so naturally to Reeves could not be more appropriate to this character, and he is able to speak even the more ludicrous lines with unflinching sincerity.
Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, a well-established Spanish actress, plays Victoria Aragón as a woman conscious of the poignancy of her situation. Vibrant and vulnerable, she fears her father's wrath but is not unaware of his love for her. In her own little kingdom of Los Nubes, she is a princess, and she knows it. Why shouldn't the brave, noble Paul be her Prince Charming?
Giancarlo Giannini (Seven Beauties, Hannibal) throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of Alberto Aragón, Victoria's overbearing father. Now snide, now impassioned, he rules his family with a spiked iron fist. He is a crusader, and the vineyard is his holy war. His own father remarks that being in charge is not easy for him, which would account for his perpetually worried and wearied demeanor.
All the actors perform credibly, but the only other one I'll mention here is the late Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek, Viva Zapata!), who appears as the Aragón family's patriarch, Don Pedro. His is a romantic soul, mellowed by age. Now that he has handed the reins of the vineyard over to his son, he has time to enjoy life's simpler pleasures: good wine, walks in the countryside, the music of his people, and intervening on Cupid's behalf in the life of his granddaughter.
The disc includes the original theatrical trailer, several bonus trailers, and a brief promotional featurette. The featurette is nothing to write home about, but it's a nice bonus. English and Spanish subtitles are also a welcome addition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Whether or not you like this movie depends entirely on whether you can buy into the romantic vision communicated by its director. This is not a movie for the jaded, the cynical, or the facetious. In short, this is not my kind of movie. It's a very sweet, very old-fashioned love story, soaked through with idealism and melodrama. The plot is wholly predictable, the script is a little on the clichéd side, and the entire operation is designed to twang the heartstrings in a manner that leaves me feeling vaguely nauseated. You have to be in love with love in order to really appreciate this film.
If you like this sort of thing, you know who you are, and I encourage you to procure a copy of this film as soon as possible. What A Walk in the Clouds does, in creating an idyllic, sentimental love story, it does very well. Gentlemen, this DVD may bring joy to the woman in your life (particularly if she's a Keanu Reeves fan), and perhaps help to justify the amount of money you've spent on that home theater system. As for my fellow cynics, you may prefer to avoid this one.
The accused are respectfully acquitted, on the condition that they depart from my courtroom as soon as possible. Fox Home Entertainment receives a special commendation for an excellent transfer.
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