A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (1995) **
The War Is Over. In 1945, G. I. Paul returns to San Francisco. His war bride was a mistake. After long-awaited sex, he takes off for Sacramento on his old business, even tough, as he says: "I don't want to sell chocolate. "
The question arises. Is the film by Mexican director Alfonso Arau ("Like Water for Chocolate") selling chocolate to the public? The answer is yes, yes and yes.
Paul and Victoria, Strangers on a Train, meet. Victoria, (played by a Spanish actress) has been Seduced And Abandoned, is pregnant (it does not show) by her college professor. (Never mind the awful slur at academics).
Paul becomes her knight errant rescuer as he takes her home to her wine-growing family (the Aragons) in Napa Valley, pretending to be her husband, because otherwise People Will Talk.
The trip (train, bus, foot-power) takes us through landscapes so beautiful that, as some say, they are to die for. The Aragons, old Mexican nobility, live in an area and in a dream hacienda that are both to die for. Many times over. The dining table with its lights, tableware and massive silver is to die for. The food's looks would have made Babette (of Babette's Feast) die for too.
Irascible Papa Alberto (was Italian star Giancarlo Giannini dubbed perhaps?) is furious, inhospitable, choleric, unpleasant and he smells a rat too. Somewhat obsessed too with his lineage of noble Spaniards and "best families" Mexicans, he acts like an Hidalgo but doesn't know where Illinois is. Paul does, he comes from there.
Papa overreacts and overacts. Garrulous Gramps Don Pedro also overacts but is a calm, wise old man. He, his wife, Victoria's handsome Mama Angelica and all the womenfolk support the girl and like the boy.
In a georgeously picturesque fog, Paul tries to leave the next day for an alleged short business trip. Don Pedro makes him stay. Victoria's kid brother arrives from Stanford University in a Cord convertible that's to die for --and this time I mean it.
Paul has surreal nightmares of war combined with his childhood in an orphanage. Need one say that his attraction to Victoria mounts by the minute, and vice versa? Soon he's ready to die for her.
The Aragon wine is said to be also something to die for. It is interesting to know that California wines, unknown internationally back in 1945, were so good. Now Aragons and their workers harvest grapes. The vines are in another of the many to die for views, among trees, hills and skies that make most vaunted French vineyards look like nothing. (I'd like to see reviews of this film from Bordeaux and Burgundy) Indeed, the entire movie is like splendid calendar art -- not the girlie type. Napa must stand for North American PAradise.
Everything is beautiful. When the grapes go into a barrel, all the short-skirted women who press the grapes are beautiful, with beautiful legs. Sexy but discreet. Discreet too are the young couple's conversations, all sotto voce. This is the first whispering movie in many years. Sometimes it includes Cries And Whispers. The twosome come close to having sex after the wine, but this is halted by Paul: "I'm a married man. " It is good to see that some males are decent, like that good-looking fellow in "Something to Talk About. "
A sudden frost is fought with smudge smoke pots and everyone waving huge, beautiful fans, like butterfly wings, to spread the heated air. "Fly" says Dad. "Fly" says Victoria. And like Bolshoi ballet stars, Paul and Victoria intertwine while moving their wings with grace. In "A Walk" evennear catastrophes are occasions for esthetic demonstrations.
Again, Paul tries to leave. Again, Grandpa stops him, eats all his chocolates, plies him with wine. Why they drink it "bottoms up" like Russians guzzling vodka remains unelucidated. They get pie-eyed.
Skip to the beautifully costumed Harvest Festival where things come to a head. Victoria and Paul experience some obligatory bad moments. He goes away. But we all know that this is the storm before the calm and that Providence will see to it that the Aragon estate has four generations living on it. The happy finale brings much more corn than wine
"A Walk" is a movie of hyperboles. There's overkill of lavish pictures and in much else. When a fire spreads, it is on a grandiose scale and zips like bursts from a flame-thrower. The score by Maurice Jarre (not one of my favorites) keeps hammering on variations of his music for "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago. " The landscapes are so sensational (the scale of the color red suffuses almost all images) that you more than suspect painted backdrops, manipulations and other special effects.
The Italian original was "Quattro passi fra le nuvole" (1942), a wartime movie that did not mention the war but showed the misery of people, things and places, all unglamorized. A major precursor of neo-realism, it was movingly scripted by the great Cesare Zavattini and others, powerfully directed by Alessandro Blasetti, the Fascist era's biggest name. The current version, however is "muy muy romantica" but an artificial Sweet Movie that's not really "muy simpatica. " It does not touch, it bores a little. It speaks to the eye--not the mind or the heart.
Watchable it is. If you have to munch something, skip the candy and go for salty nibblies instead.