Year:  2023

Director:  Mary Harron

Rated:  M

Release:  July 13, 2023

Distributor: Kismet

Running time: 98 minutes

Worth: $9.50
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Christopher Briney, Sir Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Ezra Miller, Andreja Pejic, Rupert Graves

… reduces a potentially-fascinating story down to its blandest elements, both visually and textually …

Filmmaker Mary Harron has made another addition to her cinematic solar system of superficial and fucked-up worlds built by superficial and fucked-up men, and the women who have to deal with them.

The framing for this retelling of surrealist master Salvador Dalí’s waning years, right from the off, puts this film on wobbly legs. Rather than being told from Ben Kingsley’s perspective as Dalí, or Barbara Sukowa as his wife and muse Gala, we instead get everything from… uh, what was his name again? *frantic Googling* Ah, ‘James Linton’, an art gallery worker played by Christopher Briney (The Summer I Turned Pretty). Even for the thin, Nick Carraway-esque voyeur he’s been given, Briney’s screen presence does nothing to lift the material or even keep eyes on the screen. American Psycho being told from the perspective of the cat-hungry ATM would’ve made more sense than this – incidentally, the film is written by Mr Harron, John Walsh.

From there, the cracks in the foundation spread out into the visuals, which aim for a ‘70s sunkissed colour palette to fit the setting, but come across more like an iPhone commercial attempting to ape that aesthetic with a name-brand filter.

For a film telling the story of an artist renowned for his high-key weirdness, the presentation is dishearteningly bland, which ends up cutting into the libertine pretences concerning his wild New York parties.

To make matters worse, the text isn’t able to provide much of an insight into Dalí as an artist either. The narrative is framed around the notion that Dalí has as many sides to him as he had different signatures, but what we actually see of the man fails to fulfill that idea. The interplay between Dalí and Gala has interesting nuances concerning age and Gala’s agency as his muse, and Kingsley and Sukowa do well enough with bringing those facets to their performances (even if Kingsley is leaning a bit too much into caricature at times), but there’s a detectable lack of honesty about the subject.

We see his sexual timidity and his transactional relationship with the art world, but nothing about his flaws, beyond him just being sad and unfulfilled. That Luis Buñuel only gets a fly-by mention, Franco doesn’t get brought up at all, and the signed prints scandal is neatly taken out of his hands, shows that his proto-edgelord antics have been put aside. This makes the film’s apparent want for the audience to pity or even empathise with Dalí feel like a psyop, and not a terribly convincing one either.

Dalíland reduces a potentially-fascinating story down to its blandest elements, both visually and textually, with even its better performers looking like they’re drowning in pale silver paint, struggling to keep their heads above it. A biopic so mired in the sub-genre’s most milquetoast impulses, it genuinely would have been improved if it showed more of Ezra Miller doing his best impression of Joaquin Phoenix in Joker.