[ This page describes the film adaptation of Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits. For those seeking information about the book, or about Allende herself, I recommend www.isabelallende.com. ]
Partly based on writer Isabel Allende's own experiences, The House Of Spirits follows three generations of a wealthy South American family during the social turmoil that led to the 'Junta' years of the 1970s and 80s.
The career of a nation is represented by the life of self made land-baron/tyrant - 'Esteban Trueba' (played by Jeremy Irons). The rest of a mainly female cast explore old, current (and future) social problems - as experienced by many people in all countries. Allende may also have been trying to present women as inherently socialist, and far-right politics as a kind of country club, or a contact sport...
There is a deeper subtext still, on which I'd best not elaborate here - but the book and film could be regarded as a metaphor for something else. At surface level, forgiveness and rejection of revenge are recurring themes - voiced mainly by 'Clara' (Meryl Streep). Some of that dialogue may seem to be day dreaming of the blind alley variety, but this is a device, balanced by events within the story.
...Although the tone of the film suggests a statement on questions raised, matters are not fully resolved by its ending. That was probably deliberate because, among other elements, this is a tale about comparing past events and applying insights gained to events yet to be written.
Bille August (adapter and director) almost succeeds in bringing the scale of The House Of Spirits to the regime of cinema session slots, but the final cut still ends at over two hours and, at times, it does feel rushed. Never-the-less, something important of what Allende wanted to express has made it to disc, where it awaits the attentive viewer.
The cast includes Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Antonio Banderas, Vanessa Redgrave, and, of course, Winona Ryder...
Quite far into the piece she appears as 'Blanca' - daughter of the afore-mentioned tyrant, and within one character shows us: privileged college girl, lover, responsible mother, accidental revolutionary, torture victim... Winona also narrates the early part of the film - so you'll be hearing from her long before she arrives. According to the Ryder legend, doing this film nearly fried her noodle. This might be true, as certain aspects of 'Blanca' must have been difficult to approach.
But it's Glenn Close that gives the most interesting performance of the film: succeeding to present her character - the superficially repellant 'Férula' - in a way that does not merely beg sympathy, but inspires it.
Photography is luxurious (Jörgen Persson), as is the score (Hans Zimmer); aesthetically, the movie reeks of good taste, apart from the original posters and DVD box art, which simply reek - but that's merely the exterior to everything in The House Of Spirits.
© Copyright 2003 cb salter. all rights reserved.
Re wide screen edition DVD: For anyone looking for The House Of Spirits widescreen version (1:2.35 aspect ratio), I thought I'd mention that in 2003 it was still available in France, on DVD. Locally titled La Maison Aux Esprits, it was distributed by 'Paramount Home Entertainment (France)' with the bar code:
3 357805 014228.
This version is 'Region 2' / 'PAL System' - so replay/viewing devices must be compatible, or adaptable, to those standards. The copy I purchased had the original 2.35 gate and original English soundtrack - with French subtitles 'fixed' but appearing only in the black area, below the image. On a 16:9 screen, the image was centrally placed, surrounded by black - top, bottom, sides. Picture and sound were very sharp/clear. (If desired one could use 'zoom' and still enjoy good quality.) It was available at Fnac (fnac.fr), but you could also try amazon.fr.
Another film that might interest you: Death and the Maiden, featuring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson. Directed by Roman Polanski.