The House of the Spirits

Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close

Directed by Bille August
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
April 1, 1994

It's always painful when a brilliant book becomes a bust of a movie. Consider the fate of the first novel by journalist Isabel Allende – a relative of the Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was killed in a coup in 1973. Allende's saga, stretching from the 1920s to the 1970s, used a tale of sorrow, blood and love in Latin America to strike a universal chord. The 1985 book demanded major talents to bring it to the screen. And it got them. Danish director-writer Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) assembled a cast headed by Britain's Jeremy Irons and Vanessa Redgrave, America's Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Winona Ryder, Germany's Armin Mueller-Stahl and Spain's Antonio Banderas. It sounds formidable until you realize that this polyglot acting troupe is meant to share national and family ties.

Whoops. Irons is hardly ideal casting as the macho, rapacious patriarch Esteban Trueba. Even in thick pancake makeup (and a thicker accent), he looks better suited for high tea than for pillaging governments and peasant girls. Streep also fights a losing battle. As Trueba's ethereal wife, Clara, possessed of the power to see her family's future, she seems gripped less by spirits than by a galloping dementia. Ryder is Blanca, the daughter of these two unlikely Chileans. By virtue of underplaying, Ryder doesn't embarrass herself, at least not until her prison torture scenes. Blanca rebels by bedding Pedro (Banderas), the revolutionary son of her father's foreman. Banderas' Spanish accent is authentic, which makes him seem oddly out of place in a cast that includes Redgrave and Mueller-Stahl as Clara's parents.

Only Close as Ferula, Trueba's spinster sister, manages to grasp Allende's point about the evolution of feminine consciousness in a world ruled by men. August keeps the rest of Allende's Spirits decidedly earth-bound. No matter. The movie will vanish quickly; the book will endure.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Hungry Like the Wolf”

    Duran Duran | 1982

    This indulgent New Romantic group generated their first U.S. hit with the help of what was at the time new technology. "Simon [Le Bon] and I, I think, had been out the night before and had this terrible hangover," said keyboardist Nick Rhodes. "For some reason we were feeling guilty about it and decided to go and do some work." Rhodes started playing with his Jupiter-8 synth, and then "Simon had an idea for a lyric, and by lunchtime when everyone else turned up, we pretty much had the song." The Simmons drumbeat was equally important to the sound of "Hungry Like the Wolf," as Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor stated it "kind of defined the drum sound for the Eighties."

    More Song Stories entries »