Dalíland explores Salvador Dalí’s life in New York in 1974 as he hires a new assistant to guide him through his art and be at his side for every soiree.
The immediate visualisation I have of Ben Kingsley when I close my eyes is the ungodly, corrupt antagonist in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast, Don Logan. Whether Kingsley is playing a charming role or a distasteful malefactor, there’s no doubt he will take centre stage with aptitude and the audience will love him. In Dalíland, Kingsley plays another titular role in a biopic, his first being Dmitri Shostakovich in Testimony — The Story of Shostakovich and the second the Oscar winning role of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi. This time, Kingsley embodies Salvador Dalí, the eccentric and queer 20th century surrealist artist. Through steamy recollections and new fantasies, Dalíland tells the story of Dalí, one of the world’s most contentious yet respected artists.
Behind door 1610 is the ‘Dalíland’, an exclusive party filled with everyone you’d ever want to meet in 1974’s New York. Enter James (Christopher Briney), an art school dropout who’s managed to bag himself a job as a gallery assistant. He just so happens to be in the right place at the right time when he walks through the doors of this cliquish jamboree. James begins to get accustomed to Dalí and his fast paced lifestyle, and is asked by the man himself to come and work for him. He quickly agrees, and the rest becomes history. James is now at the forefront of everything Dalí and must push him forward to complete his work and not get distracted.
Dalí’s hotel suite is not for the faint hearted. If you haven’t got an entire bottle of champagne in your system or aren’t queuing up to do lines in the bathroom, you’re not welcome into room 1610. Ginesta (Suki Waterhouse), a future lover of James, and Dalí’s wondrous muse Amanda (Andreja Pejic) are among those mingling with all the other guests at these chic functions. Waterhouse is one of the most graceful actresses working to date, and seeing her in the most luxurious party gowns makes the viewing experience more special. Costume designer Hannah Edwards captures the style of 1970s New York effortlessly. Waterhouse is very much an embodiment of a young Pattie Boyd.
Many know director Mary Harron for her film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. However, Harron began her career in film with I Shot Andy Warhol, another artist biopic like Dalíland. Harron was born to be at the centre of artists’ biopics as she does it so well. The story of Dalí is one that not many people are aware of, even if they know of his art. It felt like we did get a sense of his mind and the way he worked, even if it was a little slow at times. Having visited Dalí’s house in Figueres, it would have been magical to see some actual exterior or interior shots of his house as it’s one of the most exquisite sights I’ve ever seen.
Dalíland is eccentric and full of colour. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind does a great job of encapsulating the feeling of New York, especially with the rustic feeling of all of the wooden furniture and organised chaos. Visually, it is a stunning film. Narrative wise, the story is maybe a tiny bit bland. I wanted more art and descriptions of Dalí’s muses throughout his life. Instead of focusing on James’ character, it would have been great to see the story centre more around Ginesa, Amanda and Dalí. Those three were the most entertaining. Alas, Briney is great in the central role and he very much reminds me of an early 20’s character every girl seems to fall in love with in classic post college chick-flicks. James’ relationship with Ginesa was steamy and gripping, and the two had such great onscreen chemistry.
If you’re looking for an insight into Dalí’s life, then look no further than Dalíland. It’s a surface level dive into Dalí’s life and some of his muse across the year of 1974 to his eventual death.
Dalíland will be released in US theaters and on demand on June 9, 2023.