The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende's dynastic fable begins in the 1920s, when fate throws together the driven, macho Esteban Trueba (Irons) and the mysterious, magical Clara Del Valle (Streep). A self-made man, Esteban whisks Clara off to his sprawling estate, where they live in discord with his spinster sister Ferula (Close as a butch, black-eyed Catholic martyr). Time passes. The Truebas' felicitously named daughter Blanca grows up to be Winona Ryder: an independent-minded young woman who gets pregnant by peasant agitator Banderas. And so it goes on for two hours and five decades, until a dramatic political coup jerks these characters from the magical realist soap that is their life into a traumatic melodrama in which Blanca is brutally tortured by Esteban's bastard son. This final passage belatedly musters some conviction; elsewhere, director August plods through his own unwieldy, literal script without betraying any sensitivity to the material. Irons gives an excruciating performance - what Streep's genuinely warm, wonderful Clara sees in him you'd need ESP to fathom.

Release details

Duration: 138 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Bille August
Screenwriter: Bille August
Cast: Jeremy Irons
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