Published Dec 01, 2002Todd Haynes's film Safe was probably the best American film of the 90s, and his long-awaited new film, Far From Heaven is in the same league. It's a 50s melodrama, an homage to Douglas Sirk, and in a strange way, it's an extension of the characters and themes in Safe (Julianne Moore, star of both movies, played Carol White in Safe and in Far From Heaven she's Cathy Whittaker). Moore once again plays a seemingly happy and contented housewife, who gradually discovers that her environment is quietly suffocating the life out of her. Cathy's husband, played with coiled tension by Dennis Quaid, has a secret he's been keeping from her and it reveals itself in increments. Cathy remains loyal to him, even as certain repressed feelings of her own begin to begin to manifest themselves. She begins to fall in love with her gardener (played by Dennis Haysbert), and when she starts socialising with him, her friends and neighbours are aghast. The local Connecticut newspaper even does an oddly condescending profile of Cathy (the headline reads, "A woman as good to her family as she is kind to Negroes"). Haynes does an amazing balancing act in dealing with these issues. He maintains a great deal of fidelity to the time period (or rather, the movies of the period), but he interjects shocking little fissures into the mix that could only come from a contemporary perspective. The look and tone of this film is astounding. Haynes and his production team go delightfully overboard in filling the screen with tableaux of autumn leaves (a consistent trope in Sirk films), which at times threaten to overwhelm the actors standing in front of them. Every inch of the frame bears the fingerprints of a director in complete control. Far From Heaven feels like the film that Haynes has been waiting to make all of his life. From the beautiful, bittersweet melancholy of his repressed characters trying to break free from societal pressure, to the sweeping crane shots that gracefully float through the trees, this is pretty much a perfectly realised work of art.