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.
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