Dalíland Movie Review (2023)

George Orwell’s scathing critique of Salvador Dalí’s character may have missed the mark, for there is no denying the allure of Dalí’s artistry. As a fan since the late 1960s, I remain captivated by the meticulous craftsmanship of his famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory.”

Although my appreciation for other surrealist artists like Max Ernst has grown, Dalí’s ability to consistently achieve the same level of transcendence in his later works is open to debate. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that he possessed a knack for irking people.

From Provocative Painter to Iconic Brand

By the 1970s, Salvador Dalí had transcended the realm of a mere painter and become a brand unto himself, much like his contemporary, Andy Warhol. With a self-imposed moniker of “Avida Dollars,” Dalí embraced the persona of a monied socialite alongside his wife Gala.

They reveled in throwing outrageous parties, accumulating outrageous bills, and occasionally neglecting to pay them. Mary Harron’s film “Dalíland” provides a glimpse into the life of 1970s Dalí through the eyes of James Linton, an assistant at a New York gallery representing the artist.

A Dizzying Social Whirl

As the frame story unfolds in the early 1980s, James, played appealingly by Christopher Briney, finds himself transported back to the past after witnessing news of a fire that severely injures the aging Dalí. Tasked with looking after the artist as he prepares for a show, James becomes immersed in the whirlwind of Dalí’s social circle.

Alice Cooper and Amanda Lear, with her captivating portrayal by Andreja Pejic, are among the colorful characters he encounters. And then there’s Dalí himself, with his exhausting personality, pontificating about his role in creating God and even proposing a giant penis as his “contribution to world peace.”

The Charisma of Dalí

Ben Kingsley masterfully portrays the elderly Dalí in the main storyline, while Ezra Miller portrays the artist during his youth in flashbacks. Both actors bring a palpable magnetism to their performances, imbuing Dalí with a mesmerizing presence.

Kingsley’s portrayal captures the clash between Dalí’s eccentricities and the challenges of old age, while Barbara Sukowa shines as Gala, the unsung hero of the movie. Sukowa skillfully depicts Gala’s wounded pride and reluctant commitment to her husband, highlighting her journey from seeking art dealers on Parisian streets to supporting talentless figures in her later years.

Conventional Biographical Considerations

Although “Dalíland” showcases occasional moments of brilliance, it falls into the trap of being a conventional biographical exploration. John Walsh’s script introduces a subplot reminiscent of “Almost Famous” featuring a female Dalí groupie and her interactions with James.

While this character offers insights into the social dynamics surrounding Dalí, the portrayal feels clichéd and fails to do justice to the uniqueness of the artist himself. Suki Waterhouse delivers a commendable performance with the material provided, but one cannot help but wish for fresher and more nuanced storytelling that aligns with Dalí’s unconventional spirit.

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Final Verdict

“Dalíland” provides a dizzying journey into the eccentric world of Salvador Dalí. Despite its occasional missteps, the film captures the essence of Dalí’s magnetism, showcasing both the admiration and irritation he stirred among those who encountered him.

With excellent performances from Ben Kingsley, Ezra Miller, and Barbara Sukowa, the movie navigates the complexities of Dalí’s character and the challenges of aging. While the script occasionally succumbs to conventional biographical tropes, it still offers glimpses into the surreal and fascinating life of one of history’s most enigmatic artists.

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