James (Christopher Briney) is trying to pursue his artistic passions in New York. Coming from a small town in Idaho, he is working in an art gallery about to host a Salvador Dalí exhibit in Dalíland. Dalí (Ben Kingsley) is one of the, if not the most, famous living artists in the world in the mid 70s. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for James and he is not going to pass it up. Just like that, James gets his big break. Dalí and his wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa) want James to become Dalí’s personal assistant until the exhibit. The gallery owner, and James’s boss, Christoffe (Alexander Beyer) initially scoffs at the idea, but quickly realizes he can use James to make sure Dalí produces all the art needed for the exhibit.
James finds out firsthand that the lavish lifestyle that Dalí and Gala live is not one that is most conducive to creating art. However, there is never a dull moment. James gets thrust into this world of parties, drugs, sex, and drama. Quickly falling head over heels for Ginesta (Suki Waterhouse), he finds himself starting to get swept away in Dalí’s world. He gets even most entangled when Dalí’s secretary Captain Moore (Rupert Graves) takes James under his wing. As James becomes closer with Dalí, he begins to see the cracks in his marriage and the control Gala has over the artist. Their relationship is a complicated one that Dalí begins to share with James. A love story about a younger Dalí (Ezra Miller) finding his other half in a young Gala (Avital Lvova).
Dalíland is directed by Mary Harron and written by her husband John Walsh. Both have taken some time since their last feature length project. Walsh in particular has experienced a decade long hiatus from writing or directing before Dalíland. Harron and Walsh have collaborated on numerous projects dating back to 2008, however they were all shorts. This is the first full film together. Having a husband-and-wife team behind the scenes affords Dalíland an unique opportunity to examine love and marriage from a rare vantage point.
Harron and Walsh capture the essence of 1970s New York. The script allows the characters to show their range – from Dalí’s humor and absurdity to the madness inside both Dalí and Gala. Dalíland invokes memories of Almost Famous – with our protagonist able to pull back the curtain and see the truth behind the industry they love. Dalíland isn’t the perfect biopic. With Dalí’s career spanning decades, it is impossible to capture everything in a single film. Harron and Walsh chose an interesting approach focusing on Dalí and Gala. While doing so, they make sure to weave in numerous references to famous works and people from the era. This helps Dalíland take on a continued aura of realism.
Dalí is a larger-than-life figure who still has a firm grasp in pop culture decades after his death. Kingsley’s portrayal does him justice. The mannerisms and small intricacies are fantastic and bring the character to life. Sukowa shines as well, embracing the turbulence as the marriage waivers. She plays Gala with a notable strength, yet moments of nurture that resonate. Harron seamlessly employs flashbacks to show the progression of Dalí and Gala’s relationship. In them Miller and Lvova provide a more delicate side that meshes incredibly well with the tumultuous relationship playing out in front of James. When the paint dries, Dalíland is certainly not perfect and leaves a lot off the canvas. However, the film does tell an entertaining and enjoyable story. It is worth a watch for Dalí fans and those curious about one of the art world’s most iconic personalities.
Dalíland is available in theaters and VOD now.