Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Portugal/Germany/ Denmark/USA, 1993. Costa do Castelo Filmes, Det Danske Filminstitut, Eurimages, House of Spirits Film, Neue Constantin Film, Spring Creek Productions. Screenplay by Bille August, based on the novel by Isabel Allende. Cinematography by Jorgen Persson. Produced by Bernd Eichinger. Music by Hans Zimmer. Production Design by Anna Asp. Costume Design by Barbara Baum. Film Editing by Janus Billeskov Jansen.
Unfortunate waste of an excellent possibility. Isabel Allende’s epic novel has been turned into a melodrama of confusion by Danish director Bille August, a filmmaker who should never have been allowed to get his hands on this project. Completely unable to capture South American culture, particularly in regards to the personalities of his characters, August’s adaptation of the novel ignores everything introspective about the story and focuses on the political climate in Chile over a period of fifty years. It follows the lives of the Trueba family, starting with the hardworking miner Esteban (a sorely miscast Jeremy Irons) who works his way to financial prosperity and political success, in the meantime taking the mysteriously spiritual Clara (Meryl Streep) as his wife. His sister (Glenn Close, giving the film’s best performance) has a relationship with Clara that he feels is too close for comfort and so expels her from his house, while his daughter Blanca (Winona Ryder, again a bad bit of casting) has a romance with a farmhand (Antonio Banderas) that threatens to overturn his ideas of class in a world that he has not noticed is changing. Streep herself is actually well-suited to the role, but with August cutting out most of the novel’s references to her character’s abilities to commune with the unseen world around her, her performance is left looking confused and unsure. The film is uneven and at times quite boring, and it’s rather offensive to notice that the only truly Latin Americans acting in the film (Banderas, Maria Conchita Alonso, among others) are playing Native peasants.