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Daliland (Film Review)

3 min read

Courtesy of Icon

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

When a film centres around a specific time for a prolific person in history, there is a danger that the film will feel restrictive and have precious few areas to explore. With little over 90 minutes, we are given a look into the last years of world-famous Spanish surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. But the film does not focus on his final works, ailing health, or a closer look at his relationships with his wife or band of followers. This is a biopic but through the eyes of someone who knew him for a short while. Those biopics that want to delve deep but never quite go as far as you would hope. However, there is a great performance from Sir Ben Kingsley to revel in.

In 70s New York, young gallery assistant James Linton, keen to make his career in the art world, is thrust into the provocative indulgent world of Salvador Dali. Balancing his duty to the gallery and show Dali is meant to be painting for and with the master himself, Linton is shown the true nature of the artist and those around him, shattering the façade that has been kept up for years.

Courtesy of Icon

Daliland seems like an unusual film to add to director Mary Harron's catalogue. With her keen eye and talent for visceral and somewhat provocative images, Daliland comes across as rather a tame piece of filmmaking. Obviously, no stranger to the biopic or stories featuring famous people, Harron's approach is a gentler one and often feels as if she has been held back. Instead of the film taking the opportunity to explore the abstractness of Dali's work and latter life, we are given a much more straightforward snapshot biopic with flashbacks and a wide-eyed naïve outsider who brings us into Dali's world.

Courtesy of Icon

Using James Linton to bring us into Dali's world is an overused trope, never meet your heroes, let alone work for them. Linton starts out as being more than just a device to bring us into the real story. He has his own plans and agency but it's all too soon swallowed up by the theatrics Dali and his group of hedonistic art types. The sad fact that everyone present at these endless parties all serve a purpose, either for Dali and his distractions or for his wife Gala, who requires the company of young men. The so called ‘fun times' are given a darker spin very quickly. The inevitable flashbacks included in the narrative are amusing and break up the tension, but ultimately are not needed which is a shame as Ezra Miller makes for a perfect young Dali.

Apart from highlighting the forgery of Dali's work, which he may or may not knowingly took part in, the film doesn't offer any new relations or haunting images, we barely get to see his actual work. Though Kingsley does give a great performance, as does Barbara Sukowa as Gala, it is a biopic that is in danger of being lost in the sea of films that follow a similar formula.

Daliland premieres exclusively on the Icon Film Channel from 11th September and released in selected UK cinemas from 13th October