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A Walk in the Clouds

The most hardened cynics among us will want to steer clear of the overly romantic A Walk in the Clouds, Alfonso Arau's World War II-era tale of love and lust among the vineyards of Napa Valley. The film requires a leap of faith into "magical realism" that few regular moviegoers can probably muster, and while director Arau — whose previous film Like Water for Chocolate met with critical raves — applies a similar surreal beauty and sense of the fantastical here, the story is far less intriguing. Keanu Reeves stars as Paul, a soldier returning home at the end of the war to a wife (Debra Messing) he knew only briefly before shipping out four years earlier. Paul discovers that she hasn't even opened the mountains of letters he has sent her describing his dreams of a life with kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. Of course, the marriage is doomed to fail. Thus Paul takes to the road to sort things out, where he meets Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), a young pregnant woman who has been abandoned by her lover. Victoria is returning to her family's vineyard, where she is sure her conservative father is going to kill her when he finds out about her disgraceful predicament. But Paul and Victoria hatch a plot to have Paul pose as Victoria's husband — he'll come to meet the family and then sneak off the next day, claiming to be unable to handle the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. Of course, the plan is doomed to fail. When Victoria's father (Giannini) meets Paul he is mortified that his well-bred daughter has married a nobody gringo, and he suspects there is something fishy about the whole set-up. But despite the odds against them, Paul and Victoria start to fall in love — helped considerably by the scene-stealing Anthony Quinn as the crusty old grandfather. Consequently, Paul (an orphan who longs for family ties) ends up staying longer than he planned as he becomes drawn to Victoria and her closely knit family. At this point, Arau take the opportunity to infuse the film with lavish and sensuous scenes of the harvesting and crushing of the grapes and the general merriment that goes along with wine-making. It's evident that Paul wants to be with Victoria (Reeves actually has to say, "I want you more than anything. You can't imagine how much I want you Victoria!"), but Paul is, after all, still married and not available. But not to worry! He simply races home, gets an annulment, and is back at the vineyard in time to help instigate a tragedy of epic proportions for Victoria's family. With a ludicrous ending that turns all the characters into caricatures, a movie this sappy is (of course) doomed to fail. Arau manages to create a fairy-tale world that is sometimes enchanting, but unfortunately his style can't make up for what the story lacks in substance. Fox's DVD edition of A Walk in the Clouds offers an anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. The disc also includes a featurette, but it's more like an extended promotional piece for Reeves. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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