Writer and director John Duigan’s Head in the Clouds reads like an old-time war movie kinked up for modern sensibilities. We’re talking S&M, getting down and dirty on top of a pool table, threesomes, girl-on-girl action and a topless Charlize Theron in a bathtub.
Throw in a bitch slap and a confessional and you’d have an average episode of the Real World. But, like a cold shower, Head in the Cloud’s serious side washes away the sizzle. The agonizingly slow pace of the World War II love story with its hefty and arduous plot will make you wish for a bunch of snotty coeds and a hot tub.
Theron is Gilda Besse, a hedonistic heiress with no interest in the tumultuous world beyond her boudoir. Estranged from her American mother and feuding with her French father, Gilda has no allegiance to family or state, and instead floats among lovers and fleeting passions such as acting, writing and art.
In 1933 Cambridge, she stumbles into the arms of Guy (Theron’s real-life beau Stuart Townsend), an Irish-born student who aspires to better the world. Guy is taken with Gilda, who is way out of his league. The two hook up, but Gilda quickly flutters off to find new amusements.
The two are reunited years later in Paris, where Gilda is living with her roommate and lover, Mia (Penelope Cruz). Politically persecuted in Spain, Mia is a former burlesque dancer training to become a nurse so she can return to Spain and fight against fascism.
The three grow closer; the world gets more complicated as does the trio’s relationship. We get to see Germany’s occupation of France, Guy’s return to Paris as a spy and Gilda’s shacking up with a Nazi general. Finally, the movie hits its stride.
There is a heck of a lot of windup to get to the story, but Head in the Clouds offers enough eye candy to make the experience palatable. The movie is beautifully photographed; Cruz and Theron are stunning as 1930s babes; and the scenes meant to seduce truly steam up the screen.
Showing at the Main Art Theater (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].