Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Mary Harron
scr John Walsh
prd Edward R Pressman, David O Sacks, Daniel Brunt, Chris Curling, Sam Pressman
with Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Christopher Briney, Ezra Miller, Rupert Graves, Suki Waterhouse, Andreja Pejic, Alexander Beyer, Mark McKenna, Zachary Nachbar-Seckel, Avital Lvova, Gavin Spokes
release US 9.Jun.23
22/US 1h37

sukowa miller graves

Is it streaming?

kingsley and briney
With a wonderfully unapologetic depiction of a colourful moment in art history, director Mary Harron and writer John Walsh recount a story from the life of notoriously large-living artist Salvador Dali. Even if the tone is somewhat uneven, there's a lushness to the film's design that sharply evokes a swirl of creative energy, and Marcel Zyskind's cinematography has depth and texture that capture the period's offbeat vibe.
In 1974 New York, art school dropout James (Briney) is working in a gallery when he's sent to deliver a letter to Dali (Kingsley), who lives in a luxury hotel in a swirl of colourfully lavish hedonism. Smitten by James, Dali's flamboyant wife Gala (Sukowa) invites him to dinner, and Dali hires him as an assistant. James' boss (Beyer) allows this, as long as he makes sure Dali is ready for his forthcoming exhibition. But of course this is a challenge amid the partying, sex and drugs. Later, James travels to Europe with Dali's entourage.
Decadence infuses the film, echoed in settings and clothes, plus a great song score and vibrant artwork on display in every scene. Diva-like behaviour floods through the interaction, and the only voice of reason is Dali's nervy business manager Captain Moore (Graves), who struggles to contain the master's excessive lifestyle. Harron cleverly stages flashbacks featuring the young Dali (Miller) and Gala (Lova) as the older Dali and James are watching within the scene, adding a touch of nostalgia that feeds into James' coming-of-age journey.

As the eccentric raconteur, Kingsley mixes thoughtful observations with a mischievous glint, and Miller adds darker emotionality as the younger Dali. Both actors have fun with the role, creating an intriguing portrait of a feverishly creative mind. In fabulous scenes opposite Kingsley, Sukowa skilfully layers moving resonance into the predatory, imperious Gala. By contrast, the brightly engaging newcomer Briney gives the audience a sympathetic perspective into a story that also features a number of enticing figures around the margins.

Dali's outsized personality and lifestyle often overshadowed his groundbreaking art, which remains off-screen for legal reasons. The film addresses several thorny issues from his life, such as how he signed empty canvases, creating the possibility for forgeries. So in addition to taking the audience into this rarified world, seeing everything through James' curious eyes, the film is also an inventive depiction of the tension between artistry and commerce. And perhaps even more memorable is the way the film explores an artist who became art himself.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 7.Jun.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall