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:: Far From Heaven

The beautiful, yet repressed, atmosphere of America in the 1950s is brought to the screen in Far From Heaven. Viewing this film was revisiting the old style movie matinee, where the cinematography is a high point in bringing to detail all the colours of autumn in Hartford, Connecticut.

It is 1957 and the Whitaker family carefully observe family etiquette, and have a desire to keep up a social standard. They seem a perfect family. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is the wife of Frank (Dennis Quaid) and mother to two young children. Frank is a company executive. Cathy has healthy kids and social prominence. When a reporter from a local society newspaper drops into their house to do a story, they are viewed as Mt and Mrs Magnatech (Frank’s workplace). Cathy states that she loves her life. She lives her life with a cheerful exuberance; the blonde hair, wide smile, matching outfits and all that is 1950s America.

However, Cathy’s world changes. Frank adopts a standoffish attitude and stays out late drinking. It all becomes clear to her when she goes to his office one night, only to see him in the arms of another man. Despite her devastation, Cathy is conscious of her place in the community to know that she can’t share this crisis with anyone, not even her very best friend Eleonor (Patricia Clarkson). To her surprise, Cathy finds that the one person she can talk to is her gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert). He is a widower with a young daughter and he has taken over his late father’s business and tries to modernise it. But, in the upper-class, racist-leaning circles of Connecticut, befriending an African-American – let alone a gardener, is unheard of.

Cathy is seen in Raymond’s company having a coffee. She is soon on the outer with her friends, even as she struggles to patch up her marriage. Frank attends sessions with a psychiatrist who promises him a “complete heterosexual conversion”. But it falls down. Cathy’s life, as the title indicates, is far from heaven.

Apart from the stunningly lush photography and the beautiful costumes and art direction, the director Todd Haynes doesn’t shirk issues. He doesn’t focus on the obvious questions of race because we even see Raymond victimised by his own black community because his friendship with Cathy. The feelings in this film are right there on the surface and are played out superbly by the cast.

Julianne Moore, with her strawberry blonde hair and perfect composure, radiates empathy and finds her mind being opened up to new ideas and realities. Her character is convincing for the times and its her best performance yet. The tortured confusion of Frank Whitaker is well portrayed by Dennis Quaid, while Dennis Haysbert does a fine job in making Raymond a good honest man confronted by society’s worst impulses.

Far From Heaven is witty and bittersweet, with its haunting confrontation of the era’s intolerance with regards to race relations and attitudes to homosexuals. The direction is terrific in thinking authentic 50s style. Already, this film has won several awards in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto, and it is sure to win more major accolades. It is highly recommended.

Screening on general release.