Far From Heaven

The 50's never looked so good or so insidious as in Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven."

The 50's never looked so good or so insidious as in Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven." Julienne Moore plays a stereotypically Women's-League do-good mother of 2, Cathy, whose life starts the deep descent into hell with the revelation that her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), is gay and she is attracted to her black gardener.

Although Moore won best actress at the Venice Film festival, the real winner was the cinematography (which also won an award). The colors are Technicolor bright, almost unreal and matching the dreamlike state of the 50's citizens. Everything is surface--no one dares go underneath. The set design matches the surface with meticulous care --each item, down to the cigarette lighter, is authentic 50's-- sharp-edged and uncomfortable. But under this 1957 fa?ade rages the Castro fight against Batista and the Little Rock desegregation.

As uncomfortable as Frank is, equally so is the growing affection between Moore and her gardener (Dennis Haysbert). For them to be seen together is socially dangerous, for it leads to vicious rumors and community shunning. The art motif expresses the age's ambivalences, especially when Frank and Cathy see Miro's "The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers."

Haysbert plays it way too nice, almost unbelievably so, and Haynes doesn't really know how to deal with the subtleties of racial and sexual hypocrisy the way his model by Douglas Sirk, "All that Heaven Allows," did so melodramatically well (or "Imitation of Life" or "Magnificent Obsession").

Although Atom Egoyan's "Ararat" failed at the Toronto film festival to convince me that it was no more than a tract against murderous Turks, this message film about intolerance 50's style was a successful David-Lynch-like satire from the onset, pretending to be no more than a hyperbolic look at a narrow-minded hell far from heaven.