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"Celestial Clockwork" is a sweet, charming film that will leave you smiling almost as brilliantly as the protagonist, Ana, played by Ariadna Gil.
Ana flees her marriage in Venezuela, running all the way to Paris (still in her wedding dress) to try out a career in opera singing. She moves in with some country women, seeks out a voice professor, and sets out on a quirky and colorful adventure to find happiness.
Happiness for Ana includes singing the lead in a movie of Rossini's "Cinderella," and as she attempts to find her way into the spotlight, her movie becomes a beautiful and unusual Cinderella story of its own.
But even Paris is not all roses. One of Ana's roommates, the indubitably evil and indefatigably modernist Celeste, tries at every turn to thwart Ana's quest with hypocrisy, seduction, and general malevolence.
Ana has plenty of friends to help her though--a strange collection of supporting characters including a clairvoyant, a witch-doctor, and a psychologist.
Gil shines in the movie, drawing a convincing portrait of Ana as a sweet innocent, eager to please but determined to do her own thing. But the character and the movie, while quaint, avoid being cloying with funky, unusual twists. Ana is pleasant, but not a saint; she gets stressed over her difficulties with immigration and even occasionally gives up hope--a desperate situation in this optimistic film.
The movie is also filled with the sort of magical realism that (in the tradition of "Like Water for Chocolate," "House of the Spirits" and ultimately Gabriel Garcia Marquez) has recently become a trademark of Latin American productions. But here it somehow manages to seem fresh as clouds boil around the head of an angry Celeste and magic potions glow with cosmic energy. Indeed, the fortune-telling visions of the astrologist and the odd herbal concoctions of the witch-doctor seem hardly stranger than the post-Freudian tactics of the head-shrinker.
The music, almost a supporting character in the film, is fantastic, a mix of salsa and opera that fits the bouncy and exhilarated spirit of the film.
Romance languages concentrators, by the way, will find the French, Spanish and assorted combinations of the two to be a real treat. Everybody else will have to deal with subtitles.
The real success of the film, however, is in the splendid details--the stereotype-crushingly vivid characterizations, the brilliant satire of modernism that is Celeste's "art," the poster of Maria Callas that Ana snatches from her wall before dashing off to France, the similarities in the many and varied wedding scenes. Altogether, "Celestial Clockwork" is a film that precisely and elegantly constructs a paradise before our eyes.
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