Film Review: Sir Ben Kingsley as Salvador Dali in “Daliland”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Death has always been successful at claiming its victims. Eagerly and with a lack of empathy, it takes away the last breath of the deceased and claims eternity for itself. However, what death can never achieve is taking away the legacy of the one that is gone. The legacy that is larger than life, larger than death—and larger than any human being.

Salvador Dali’s name is synonymous with surrealism. His ability to paint images in explicit details is mind-blowing. “Daliland” follows not just the titular character, but also the world he existed in. The world, which the title of the film quite openly captures. Explored through the eyes of a young assistant, James (Christopher Briney), a young man witnesses the wild and unimaginable world of the famous painter, his relationship with his wife, Gala Dali, and how the maestro was drawn to art. The baffling cycle of events is nothing in comparison with what James learns about Dali and the life that will help him lead, eventually.

Screenplay by John C. Walsh and directed by Mary Harron, “Daliland” is an exquisite film that documents the life of Salvador Dali in a brief span, as he prepared for a big show in New York. An aging Salvador Dali is too busy living life as if he was still young. His wife, Gala (Barbara Sukowa) keeps hitting on younger men. James becomes her new target, but he turns down her advances most respectfully. But as Dali travels down memory lane, we learn how charismatic he was when he was younger (Ezra Miller) and his first rendezvous with his wife-to-be (Avital Lvova).

Avital Lvova does not say much in the entire film, but her body of work shows what really mesmerized young Dali and why they eventually got married. There is a saying about the existence of a woman behind every successful man. If that is truly what it is, then we should be grateful to Gala Dali for not only discovering the famous painter but also encouraging him, giving him the voice he needed, the courage he lacked, and a willingness to make the new move towards global recognition.

Barbara Sukowa’s Gala Dali is on a whole different level. Even Dali himself cannot handle her; get into an argument with her or even object. He knows—if not for her, he would continue to party, party, and party with no sight of sobriety. James sees that too. Every single guest, at some point, will realize the importance of Gala in Dali’s life and how he could easily vanish without her. The “American Psycho” director is quite aware of the task she is up to and documents the events in the best way possible.

Does the filmmaker go deep into the life of Dali and his in-depth relationship with Gala?—not at all.  But there is no need for that. Certain things should be left to our imagination. Christopher Briney as James is a genuine revelation. I sincerely hope he will continue climbing up in the cinematic world. He was believable in all his scenes with Sir Ben Kingsley as a junior assistant with knowledge of art.  As for the story itself, it shows that no one is special when the end nears. But what matters is how life itself is lived. Therefore, the title of the film quite beautifully summarizes that, along with the well-written screenplay that helps, more or less, to dive into the head of the famous painter.

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