A WALK IN THE CLOUDS was directed by Alfonso Arau with cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. These same two people worked on the magical film, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, so I expected to see some of that same magic in A WALK IN THE CLOUDS. And, I did. But only some.
A WALK IN THE CLOUDS is the story of Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves) who marries quickly, right before leaving for Europe and WWII. When he comes home, to 1945 San Francisco, he finds his wife less than overjoyed to see him. Used to being alone (but hating it), Paul doesn't stick around and takes the train to Sacramento, instead. There he meets the beautiful-but-pregnant-and-unmarried Victoria Aragon (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). Victoria comes from an old, aristocratic Mexican family and she's terrified of what their reaction will be to her pregnancy. Paul, smitten with her beauty and her charm (and just being an all round good guy, too) offers to "pretend" to be her husband for one day and then abandon her. Victoria and Paul agree that this is the best road to follow, especially where Victoria's stern and traditional father, Alberto Aragon (Giancarlo Giannini) is concerned. Of course, the inevitable happens and Paul and Victoria really do fall in love.
When Paul and Victoria arrive at Victoria's family's vineyard, Alberto dislikes Paul from the start. Paul is simply not aristocratic enough or moneyed enough or traditional enough to suit Alberto, although Paul does have more luck with Victoria's grandfather, Don Pedro (Anthony Quinn), who is a kinder and more accepting man than is Alberto.
A WALK IN THE CLOUDS begins well, and, in the beginning, it does contain some magic, but, for me, at least, it simply wasn't able to sustain that magic until the final credits. The writers handled the magical first half of the film with a very light touch, something this film, with its touches of fantasy, definitely needed. During the second half, however, they let the film slip into melodrama and silliness and the ending, for me, wasn't at all satisfying.
I think Keanu Reeves as Paul, a man searching for his place in the world, was woefully miscast. He was wooden, even during his love scenes with the very pretty Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (who is far better known in Spain). Sanchez-Gijon's performance lost some of its luster simply because she had to play off the very wooden Reeves so much of the time, but she did try and part of the time she even succeeded. At least she looked the part. She has a luminescence and effervescence about her that make us feel any man would be a fool not to fall in love with her. Giancarlo Giannini and Anthony Quinn turn in first-rate performances as Victoria's father and grandfather and they do much to rescue A WALK IN THE CLOUDS from mediocrity.
Despite this film's tendency to slip into heaviness and melodrama, each scene is a visual delight. Cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, certainly didn't let anyone down. A WALK IN THE CLOUDS is gorgeously filmed and, on that score, it does rival, or perhaps even surpass, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. While the entire film is a visual delight, two scenes, in particular, deserve special mention. The first is a scene during which the women of the vineyard dance around in a vat of grapes, crushing them with their bare feet. That might not sound so gorgeous on paper, but it is both sensual and beautiful. The second scene that deserves a special mention is my favorite and revolves around the people of the vineyard as they "fly" through it at night on huge, gossamer wings in an attempt to keep the frost off the grapes.
If only A WALK IN THE CLOUDS could have kept the light, ephemeral feel it had two-thirds of the way through the film and avoided the disastrous fall into melodrama and it's horribly silly ending, I think it might have been a masterpiece. As it is, I definitely think it's worth renting, but I would have to think twice before buying it. It's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea.