for four Academy Awards, but winning none, Todd Haynes' Far From
Heaven was certainly not admitted to Oscar paradise. But that's
because it's too good for those "discriminating" Oscar voters. PHILIP
CHEAH tries to get close to God.
Haynes loves genre. But what he loves more is subverting them. That
can be seen as far back as his debut feature, Poison (1991) and
even in his short featurette, Superstar, the life of Karen Carpenter
told through puppet animation.
one of the bright lights of the new queer cinema, Haynes has been
clear about his cause, and there is no clearer film than Far From
Heaven, a tale of a marriage which crumbles when the husband, played
by the macho Dennis Quaid, admits to his gay feelings. But the film
transcends even that by detailing larger issues of discrimination
against race, women and even children.
does this brilliantly by exploding the 50s melodrama conventions
as auteured by the master, Douglas Sirk. He realises all the gay
themes repressed in those movies. In short, Far From Heaven shows
Quaid doing a Rock Hudson that Hudson (who was gay) himself couldn't
do in Sirk's classic, All That Heaven Allows (1955).
Far From Heaven, Quaid's wife (Julianne Moore) deals with her husband's
gay confession by falling in love with another discriminated group,
her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). That slowly spirals out of
control as the community begins to discriminate them, especially
her husband, who values his whiteness, above his gayness, that being
the ultimate prejudice.
Haynes is saying is that the problems of the 21st Century, that
is the scale of the discrimination, was already there in the 50s.
And as much as they weren't allowed expression then, it hasn't gone
away today. This means that Far From Heaven is not only a retro
film but a contemporary one as well.
the sets, costumes and colours are gorgeous and detailed and bring
a heavy sense of nostalgia. But it's also mannered, manufactured
and stylised. Notice how clean all the cars are. That sense of artificiality
also comes through even in the dialogue, especially in the pseudo-politeness
that the children express. The children, like the black man (Dennis
Haysbert), are constantly told to stay in the background or to move
away. The Julianne Moore character is also in a ghetto of her own,
a circle of high society women, who protect their space possessively.
Ed Lachman shoots the film in a colour-drenched autumnal hue while
Haynes brings out superb nuanced performances from his three leads.
Sirk would be honoured with this queer tribute while Rock Hudson
would feel vindicated.
Note: The film opens in Singapore June 19.