The true focus of the movie is Salvador Dali’s unorthodox union with Barbara Sukowa’s Gala, a lady who laid the groundwork for his profession while bringing a bevvy of attractive boys into their household.
Daliland Movie Review
Ben Kingsley plays the titular Surrealist with restraint and dignity in Mary Harron’s Dalland, a portrait of art-world celebrity indulgence as seen by a youngster who still has some illusions to dispel, while subtly pointing the camera in the direction of his complex wife/muse Gala, a role that Barbara Sukowa more than merits the film’s attention. Ezra Miller, who briefly portrays the artist as a young man, will be the subject of much discussion before the film’s premiere, but that choice of casting is excellent, and the film should be evaluated separately from that particular tabloid saga as enjoyable and enlightening, if somewhat formulaic in its plot.
It’s appropriate that our 1974 introduction to Salvador Dali is through the eyes of James (Christopher Briney), a new employee at the New York gallery handling Dal’s work, at a party because public life was almost as inextricably linked to Dali’s art as it was to Andy Warhol’s (an earlier subject of Harron’s, in 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol): A sumptuous party was hosted in the afternoon in the suite at the St. Regis Hotel where the Spanish artist had spent the previous 20 winters. Alice Cooper, one of the most notorious celebrities at the time, seldom makes a scene among the hangers-on and attractive would-be muses. He is there because he is of interest to Dal, like everyone else.
or his spouse’s. James was dispatched here by Dal’s gallery owner Christoffe (Alexander Beyer) with instructions to bring Gala Dal a briefcase full of cash and to anticipate that she would also demand other items. She added attractive boys to the couple’s entourage as freely as he added women, and unlike the allegedly celibate Salvador, she actually had affairs with them. She was described as having “the libido of an electric eel.” James has been warned to turn down her advances without offending her, but James will find it easier than usual because Gala has already given her body and heart to Jesus—specifically, to newcomer Jeff Fenholt, played by Zachary Nachbar-Seckel, who is currently portraying the Messiah in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Clueless Jeff serves as comic relief and a source of social intrigue, but his presence also allows Harron and screenwriter John C. Walsh to discuss the creative and business collaboration between the Dals. Gala did the arduous task of locating consumers while Salvador painted throughout their formative years. She encouraged him but did not share in his success, particularly after Hollywood embraced him and (she believes) mockingly questioned why he was married to an elderly woman.
[8:38 AM, 9/18/2022] Sambit: She now has Jeff to nurture as another budding artist, although one whose brilliance she can only see. Even while her current preoccupation may seem ludicrous, the movie takes her hurt pride and her underappreciated contribution to the art star’s success very seriously.
Salvador does not undervalue her significance. James observes a partnership shrouded in deep mystery, where seeming betrayals are nothing more than minor instances of disrespect that are meticulously monitored. Kingsley doesn’t indulge Salvador when he describes how their relationship began.
The two are taken to the rocky coast where the pair first met while he speaks to James: Miller, the young painter, is astounded when he first sees Gala from a distance. He scrambles frantically to create the ideal appearance of casual artistic flair before approaching the girl and instantly collapsing in hysterics. Gala did not perceive him as insane despite the fact that Dal claims he was prone to “many terrors and weird outbursts of laughter” in his youth. That fact alone could account for his steadfast commitment and yearning love, even now, fifty years later.
James has begun working as the painter’s assistant, and Christoffe has given him the responsibility of ensuring that the artist produces enough work for an impending exhibition. He learns more about this tiny ecosystem from its other inhabitants, including Captain Moore (Rupert Graves), Gala’s secretary who (sadly) knows more about their finances than anyone, Amanda Lear (transgender model Andreja Pejic), Salvador’s current muse who, according to rumours, “was a he” when they met, and Ginesta (Suki Waterhouse), who accepts that in this world she’s just “jewellery,” something “pretty for
(James and Ginesta establish a relationship, which is crucial to his introduction to metropolitan sophistication. The most sympathetic viewpoints on the Dals’ unorthodox way of life, however, will eventually come from Amanda.)
The film avoids a number of common biopic flaws because to its point of view and narrow historical focus. We’re only on this journey for as long as it takes to create the artwork for this significant exhibition, and after it doesn’t work out, we’ll briefly return to Spain. Briney makes James wide-eyed but not naive, intelligent enough to accept new, seemingly out-of-place pieces of the puzzle without accepting every justification offered to him.
One of several factors keeping Dalland from turning into an awards-bait showcase for one outstanding performance is the film’s emphasis on James. Which is fortunate because Sukowa matches Kingsley on every level and has just enough of the script’s sympathy to (rarely) steal the movie from him. Kingsley is funny, charismatic, and utterly convincing. Undoubtedly, the movie makes this marriage appear as fascinating as any painting or sculpture Salvador Dali created, and it makes the carnival that surrounded the couple, despite being crucial to their relationship, appear dull in comparison.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Production companies: Pressman Film, Zephyr Films
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Christopher Briney, Rupert Graves, Alexander Beyer, Andreja Pejic, Mark McKenna, Zachary Nachbar-Seckel, Avital Lvova, Suki Waterhouse, Ezra Miller
Director: Mary Harron
Screenwriter: John C. Walsh
Producers: Edward Pressman, David O. Sacks, Daniel Brunt, Chris Curling, Sam Pressman
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Isona Rigau Heras
Costume designer: Hannah Edwards
Music: Edmund Butt
Editor: Alex Mackie
Casting: Kerry Barden, Coin Jones, Paul Schnee
1 hour 44 minutes