The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DALILAND | The Movie Waffler


Daliland review
A young gallery assistant attempts to put on a show of Salvador Dali's work.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mary Harron

Starring: Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Rupert Graves, Suki Waterhouse, Andreja Pejic, Ezra Miller, Christopher Briney

Daliland poster

If you were going to go to a fancy dress party as an artist then the easiest, and most clearly recognisable, costume to pull off would be Salvador Dali. A quick recce reveals that fake Dali moustaches are both cheap and readily available (2.99 from a site called Carnival Store). One of those and an old suit, along with a long-haired wig: ahí tienes! I didn’t find any Francis Bacon or Matisse cosplay, and it wasn't masks of Joan Miró that the criminal madrileños of Money Heist wore, either. Pre-Warhol (who was NY mates with the man called Avida Dollars), Dali was perhaps the most image conscious and deliberately iconic artist, who consolidated the artist as celebrity/brand, a playful meta-concept sorely absent from the insular, investment driven and aloof art climate of today. As much as I love her work, can you imagine Cecily Brown featuring as a guest on Through the Keyhole? No, you can't. But in an equivalent situation during the opening of Mary Harron and John C. Walsh's (director/writer) Dalíland, we yet see Salvador Dali (Ben Kingsley, taking full advantage of Carnival Store’s thrifty deals) on a 1950s episode of What's My Line where via a series of pertinent questions the contestant correctly guesses who he is! Try that with Jenny Saville.

Daliland review

Harron's loose biopic portrays an era where art was perhaps more central to the mainstream culture, a post-Factory American 1970s where pretty vacant James (Christopher Briney), a made-up character, is instructed to infiltrate the offbeat world of Dali by his poshnob boss. Gallery curator Christoffe (Alexander Beyer) initially gets the young buckaroo to act as an intermediate, graduating to "keeping an eye on" Dali and "making sure he paints" instead of falling foul of his celebrity. Dali is drawn to the boy's beauty, and its conformance with his glam entourage (which includes a poundshop Alice Cooper who is seemingly played by someone from the Strokes circa 2001).

Ok, as a premise, it's thinner than watercolour, but in the opening of the film Harron's storytelling is as crisp as ever, with an artist's sharp eye for detail (at a hotel room party the guests drink champagne not from flutes but coupe glasses: i.e. correctly), and makes for a reasonable evocation of the title's promise. Kingsley is good value, and instinctively understands the assignment (like all the greatest, Dali recognised that art is simultaneously the most important and the most ridiculous thing in the world, and must therefore be rendered accordingly, cf. Un Chien Andalou). I like easy, funny Sir Ben, and he portrays Dali with just the right gnomic camp here, as he bangs on about big cocks and arses all the time. Perhaps he will win another Oscar.

Daliland review

Speaking of sex, we see, in the first half hour of the film, James, who never existed irl, have it off twice. Ok, one time the sting reveals that pervy Dali is watching from behind some curtains (The Great Masturbator, indeed), but such narrative choices are indicative of the issues that limit Dalíland, which reduces its namesake to a background player while centralising a bland confection and his so-so coming of age (initially Ezra Miller – I'm not getting involved - was to play this part but couldn't due to the Fantastic Beasts stuff. However, they're still at large here playing Dali in expressive flashback). Unlike Oppenheimer, we don't see Dali have sex, or do a great deal else, really - our experience of him is filtered through other people, who are not especially interesting save for Dali's wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa). If James is the face of the film, then Gala is the Beating Heart of Dalíland; Dali's rock, who is taken for granted by the painter, and taken for a ride by the star of Broadway's Jesus Christ Superstar (Zachary Nachbar-Seckel playing Jeff Fenholt - now there's a biopic in the waiting...). It's a theme which is followed through to the film's climax, which involves James uncovering forgeries and unsanctioned deals implicating Gala: as ever, scrape away at the illustrated canvas and you'll find a primer of commerce beneath. Sukowka is great in this role, which contrasts Dali's candaulism and Gala's sybarism, exposing how the liberated existence is perceived differently depending on who is living it...

Daliland review

Imposing narrative structure onto real life events (notwithstanding the fictional James) is always tricky - throughout the film, dear old Rupert Graves (playing Dali's secretary) duly pops up every so often as an ersatz Basil Exposición - but the last act invocation of faked lithographs is notably whimsical, as is the [SPOILER for a man who has been dead for almost a quarter of a century] near deathbed reunion of Dali and fictional James, which is oddly unearned. The film becomes more about the work experience of some basic kid, and not an insight into a pioneer whose vision permeated popular culture from Disney to Chupa Chups lollies. An undemanding biopic, where the period detail and Kingsley make for a pleasant diptych, but Dalíland isn't one to persist in the memory.

Daliland is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews