A Walk in the Clouds Is Keanu Reeves at His Most Romantic
by Mandi Bierly
Put your modern-day cynicism aside and fall in love with this charming period piece.
Actors often say, “I want to do something completely different” when asked how they’d like to follow up the film they just completed. But no one’s IMDb page is more eclectic than Keanu Reeves’ — especially in the ’90s, when his pick of projects led him from mystical Little Buddha (1993), to heart-pumping Speed (1994), to futuristic Johnny Mnemonic (1995), to dreamy A Walk in the Clouds (1995).
That willingness to exist in whatever genre he finds himself, without judgment, serves him particularly well in the earnest tale of romance set among the misty hills of Napa Valley. In A Walk in the Clouds, from Like Water for Chocolate director Alfonso Arau, Reeves stars as Paul Sutton, a WWII veteran who returns home to the wife (Debra Messing) he barely knew before shipping out four years earlier. She hasn’t read his letters; she just wants him back out on the road selling chocolates like before so they can afford all the things she’s gone without.
In 1945, people still talked to one another on public transportation, so Paul has a series of ill-fated meet-cutes with a beautiful Mexican-American graduate student, Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). She confides in him that she’s returning home to her family’s vineyard to tell her father, Alberto (Giancarlo Giannini), that she’s pregnant and unwed. Chivalrous Paul offers to pretend that he’s her husband for a day so that when he leaves her, the family’s wrath will fall on him.
Of course, Paul develops real feelings for Victoria. How could he not? There are sweeping views of the vineyard. There are surprisingly sensual scenes, like Victoria joining the other young married women in a choreographed dance number to stomp the grapes after they’ve been harvested. And there’s Victoria’s grandfather, Don Pedro (an exuberant, scene-stealing Anthony Quinn), who’s determined to see the couple share a love that’s as passionate as his relationship with Paul’s box of chocolates.
The beauty of the movie, shot by future three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant), is its simplicity: We — the audience and Victoria — immediately trust Paul, and never doubt that his intentions are good. We’re allowed to root for a solution that will give these two people what they want. For Victoria, that’s a man who will stand beside her and express his love more freely and gently than her big-hearted father, and for orphan Paul, it’s a family and a sense of belonging. We don’t have to wonder if there will be a twist; this is a movie that wants you to see everything coming because the view — of the land, of a forgiving family, of a love that deepens in days — is idyllic.
Perhaps the thoroughly smitten Roger Ebert said it best in his review: “Logic and cynicism will get you nowhere with this one. Oh, it will show you're tough, and can't be fooled, and no one can slip these ancient romantic notions past you. But if you can resist the scene where [Paul] sings beneath [Victoria’s] window, then for you I offer this wish, that no one ever sing beneath your window. Even if sometimes you find yourself listening.”
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