Far from Heaven [2002]

This uniquely beautiful film--from one of the smartest and most idiosyncratic of contemporary directors, Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine)--takes the lush 1950s visual style of so-called women's pictures (particularly those of Douglas Sirk, director of Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession) to tell a story that mixes both sexual and racial prejudice. Julianne Moore, an amazing fusion of vulnerability and will power, plays a housewife whose husband (Dennis Quaid) has a secret gay life. When she finds solace in the company of a black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), rumors and peer pressure destroy any chance she has at happiness. It's astonishing how a movie with such a stylized veneer can be so emotionally compelling; the cast and filmmakers have such an impeccable command of the look and feel of the genre that every moment is simultaneously artificial and deeply felt. Far from Heaven is ingenious and completely engrossing. --Bret Fetzer

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