An epic romance set against the backdrop of a world at war, this is the sort of picture moviegoers of a certain age lament that Hollywood no longer makes. Writer-director John Duigan's stab at re-creating those lavish, much-lamented romantic melodramas goes a long way to demonstrating why that's so. It begins with a portentous prologue set in 1924, as a...read more
An epic romance set against the backdrop of a world at war, this is the sort of picture moviegoers of a certain age lament that Hollywood no longer makes. Writer-director John Duigan's stab at re-creating those lavish, much-lamented romantic melodramas goes a long way to demonstrating why that's so. It begins with a portentous prologue set in 1924, as a wizened old palmist glares darkly at the hand of schoolgirl Gilda Besse and declares that she sees nothing. The daughter of a French champagne magnate (Steven Berkoff) and a mad American socialite, young Gilda is the sole heir to a prodigious fortune and already shows signs of the headstrong young women she will become. Pressed, the clairvoyant crone mutters cryptically that she sees Gilda's 34th year, and then it's on to 1933, when a rain-drenched Gilda (Charlize Theron) slips into the room of Cambridge first-year Guy (Stuart Townsend), an Irish scholarship student. Gilda, who's quarreled with the older student with whom she's having a scandalous affair, needs a place to hide out from campus security; innocent and ever-so-decent Guy is utterly smitten with this sophisticated creature and happily offers refuge, potentially ruinous consequences be damned. And so begins a lifelong affair. Guy worships Gilda and Gilda, a feckless free spirit whose wings could use a stiff clipping that they never get, first toys with Guy and then, as he's on the verge of establishing a staid life as a schoolteacher, invites him to join her in Paris. Their cheerful menage with crippled Spanish stripper-turned-nursing student Mia (Penelope Cruz) makes them the talk of the town (though Guy chooses to interpret Mia and Gilda's high-spirited romping as girlish joie de vivre rather than erotic entanglement) as they grace a never-ending round of parties, gallery openings and clubs with their gilded presence. But boring reality inevitably intrudes; civil war compels Mia's return home, and the politically engaged Guy joins the International Brigade. Gilda, who swears allegiance only to the politics of fun, is left at home to stamp her pretty foot and sulk. Spain falls to the Nationalists, Hitler seizes power, Paris falls to the Nazis and Gilda goes along to get along, keeping herself in designer frocks and dubious company. There's never a dull moment and seldom one that isn't sublimely ridiculous; the film's tone suggests an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's excoriating jazz-age satire Vile Bodies by someone who didn't realize it was black comedy rather than tragedy.
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