The most fascinating element in Dalíland is the operation of this micro-cult. James has to navigate the sexual predations of Gala while being careful what he reveals to both her and Dalí, who cannot function without her. He’s becoming obsessed with being a member of this entourage but could be kicked out at any time if he displeases Dalí or Gala. This conceit works since James is a proxy for the audience and provides a natural way to explain the inner workings of the art world and Dalí’s orbit.
Briney is great as James. As is commented on by many characters, he has kind of an angelic look, which belies a deep sophistication. The actor hasn’t been in much, but he’s a real revelation here. But this focus on James has some severe drawbacks because it makes Dalí a lesser character. Kingsley’s performance is engaging, charismatic, and endearing. We almost can’t help but root for Dalí; a man so wrapped up in love, obsession, and his quirks that he stands alone.
“Kingsley’s performance is engaging, charismatic, and endearing.”
This goes a little too far though, and I think the structure of Dalíland and the script by Walsh (Mary Harron’s husband) are more to blame than Kingsley. Since the film is set well after Dalí’s rise to stardom, after his best was behind him, we don’t get any sense of his genius. There’s virtually no discussion of the themes of his work or his monumental impact on the history of art. I fully believe that if you are making a movie about a genius, the major thrust of the film must be to grapple with that. But here, Dalí is reduced to little more than a child. This is a missed opportunity of the highest order.
You wouldn’t know it from the marketing materials, but Ezra Miller plays a young Dalí in a few brief scenes. Given the troubles, both mental and legal, he has had lately, one gets the sense that the filmmakers wanted to excise them from the project. Miller’s scenes that remain were too integral to cut completely, but they also don’t much go anywhere on their own. All these scenes are in flashbacks and are effectively narrated by the older Dalí. Apparently, Miller only had three shooting days, so there may not be much that was cut. It is a shame because he is a convincing Dalí, and the exact thing the film lacks is more insight into the artist in his prime and what truly made him a genius.
Alas, we don’t get the movie we want, we get the picture the filmmakers produced, and at least Dalíland is intriguing and entertaining. It raises interesting questions about cults of personality, our inability to deal with aging, and how we can use the people around us to get what we want. That’s not exactly surrealism, nor is it realism. It’s just Hollywood.
Dalíland had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…raises interesting questions about cults of personality, our inability to deal with aging, and how we can use the people around us..."