Far from Heaven ★★★★½

Far From Heaven is an expert pastiche of Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s - particularly All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life - that also stands on its own two feet. The gimmick, and there is always one where homages are concerned, is that Haynes deals with themes that were resolutely off-limits for moviemakers during the Eisenhower era, like homosexuality and inter-racial love. Julianne Moore is the smiling housewife whose apparently perfect existence is shattered by the revelation that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay. She seeks solace in the company of her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), but it turns out that small-town housewives of the 1950s will talk...

Haynes's florid recreation of the style of classic-era "women's pictures" is meticulous, the cast is uniformly fine and there's a terrific, backwards-looking score from Elmer Bernstein that captures the essence of the genre. The director's script is literate but admirably straightforward: particularly the matter-of-fact way it deals with the process of "curing" homosexuality, which is both insightful and genuinely shocking. Significantly, Far From Heaven makes a welcome break from the popular presentation of the '50s as a time of optimism, swinging hips and tailfins, showing it instead as a period of emotional repression and stifling conformity: the projected image defended at all costs against the stark reality. To get the full effect - and appreciate the dark humour of the opening reels - a crash-course in Sirk would definitely help, but I think you can appreciate the film regardless, as a deliciously mannered portrait of an ideal crashing quietly to the floor.

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