Phillip Kaufman's loving examination of Anais Nin's relationship with Henry and June Miller is an enthralling journey. In the film Anais is inspired by Henry and June to descend into a world of debauchery that fuels her erotic writing. We the audience see Henry and June through the eyes of Anais, which may mean it's not exactly as they really were, but rather a romanticised version of them. This is NOT a biopic of Henry Miller, which is the foolish mistake that some reviewers seemed to make on the films release.
The script tends to meander a bit, lacking any real plot. Each scene lives for itself, some more successfully than others. But in the torrid climax when Anais' wild ways have finally caught up with her, it all comes together nicely to leave a feeling of completion.
The cast is first rate. Maria de Medeiros, despite not having top billing, get's the bulk of the screen time as Anais. She has a captivating look, and embodies a sense of innocence throughout, despite displaying the most promiscuous nature. If at times she overdoes the melodrama, she should be commended for managing to purr out some rather flowery dialogue without sounding silly. Many lesser actresses would have faltered.
In what is undoubtably the highlight of his film career, Fred Ward instils Henry with some old styled charisma and gusto. While he gives us a throughly entertaining Henry, I still however have trouble seeing this character as a writer of erotic fiction. He seems too much like a man's man. The original casting choice of Alec Baldwin would make more sense in this case, but I doubt in the end he would have been as entertaining in the role as Ward.
Uma Thurman, as June, gives a memorable performance. It's the most showy character in the film, and Thurman gets the chance for plenty of legitimate scenery chewing. She uses the full scale of emotions and performs a transformation of the character from menacing seductress to pitiful emotional wreck. Despite the surprising comments of one of the other posters here, it really is one of the best performances of her young and promising career.
In support, Richard E. Grant is awkward (probably purposely) as Hugo, Anais' well-hung and faithful husband. Jean-Philippe Écoffey is adequate as Anais' cousin and brief lover. Kevin Spacey is amusing in what now looks like a cameo, but then was quite an important role for him.
Philippe Rousselot's cinematography is beautifully done. He creates an almost surreal feeling of Paris in the 1930's. The music is also well placed and adds to this mood. Kaufman and Rousselot make the numerous sex-scenes things of beauty rather than titillating, they get creative with them. In fact, the film is surprisingly unarousing considering the amount of sex occurring in it. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing I guess you can decide for yourself. Why on earth it got an NC-17 rating I don't know. I doubt it would if released today.
Not everyone will like this film. It is 'arty farty' so to speak. It's maybe even a little pretentious. But I find it to be a fascinating and just plain absorbing trip. I have managed to find the time to watch it quite a few times, and it seems to improve with age. I recommend it to any thinking filmgoers.