Mary Herron and John C. Walsh’s “Dalíland” portrays the life of one of art’s most celebrated and inspiring figures with a tame and uninspiring story. 


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Director(s) Mary Harron
Screenplay By John C. Walsh
Based On N/A
Date Released (Video On Demand) June 9, 2023
Genre(s) Biopic
Duration 1 hr, 44 mins
Content Rating Not Rated
Noted Cast
Salvador Dalí Ben Kingsley
James Christopher Briney
Gala Barbara Sukowa

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Film Summary

“Dalíland” would be a great name for a fantastical and outrageous portrait into the life of the fantastical and outrageous painter, Salvador Dalí. But this is not that film. “Dalíland” focuses primarily on Dalí’s later works and life in the 1970s and is told from the perspective of an assistant to the surrealist painter. The film sometimes indulges in the lavish lifestyle and enigma that is Dalí, but any fan of Dalí will doubt that he would approve of this drab, straightforward telling of his life.

One of the intriguing yet immediately regrettable choices “Dalíland” makes is telling the story mostly through James (played by nervous yet inquisitive Christopher Briney), a young gallery assistant who becomes an assistant to Dalí (played with a mischievous touch by Ben Kingsley). James is tasked with doing anything necessary to ensure that Dalí’s works are ready for an upcoming significant gallery show. Yet like any artist, Dalí cannot be bothered to work on a schedule. Even in his 70s, Dalí chooses to spend his time partying and wondering about the purpose of his art and life.

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Salvador Dali (Ben Kingsley) with a young Alice Cooper (Mark McKenna)

As the story progresses, James learns that much of Dalí’s life is more troubled than he could imagine. Dalí has a strained yet inspired relationship with his wife Gala (a ferocious and cunning performance by Barbara Sukowa), a crumbling work ethic overtaken by delusion and narcissism, and a facade in his very appearance. After James loses his job at an art gallery, he follows Dalí and Gala to Europe, where he slowly becomes disillusioned by Dalí’s lifestyle and the art market.

Salvadore Dalí deserves a more fun biopic. For a movie about the surrealist painter, it rarely shows his work or a hint of his surrealist touch in the filmmaking itself. “Dalíland” is a quiet, small-budget film that plays like it could be the European biopic of anyone. Unfortunately, “Dalíland” portrays the life of one of art’s most celebrated and inspiring figures with a tame and uninspiring story.

Things To Note

“Dalíland” is not rated, but includes: 

  • Dialogue: Brief uses of moderate profanity
  • Violence: Discussions about suicide and amputation
  • Sexual Content: Brief sex and nudity

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

Salvador Dalí

Dalí is an artist, a mystery, an entertainer, and a fraud. As an older man, his inspiration comes in fits and depends on his complicated and volatile marriage. He could be seen as a narcissist and delusional man, but the aging artist also suffered signs of Parkinson’s and dementia, harming his later work too.

James

A fresh-faced and naive art assistant who has an incredible eye and expression for art, yet is taken and overwhelmed by Dali’s lifestyle. As James becomes closer to Salvador Dalí, he starts to question his loyalty and future in art.

Gala

Dali’s powerful wife could be his caretaker, enemy, and inspiration in a matter of minutes. She spends her time enjoying the company of younger men. Her history with Dalí equally comforts and torments him.

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Salvador Dali accompanied by his wife, Gala (Barbara Sukowa)

Review

Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive) 

Highlights

Sukowa’s and Kingsley’s Chemistry Provides Fun and Drama in “Dalíland”

The film is at its most fun and inspired when showing the dynamic between Dalí and Gala as an aging couple who, at times, can barely stand each other but depend so much on each other. Barbara Sukowa specifically has fun as Gala and one could imagine Mary Harron and John C. Walsh having more fun writing the story from Gala’s perspective.

On The Fence

An Undeveloped Protagonist and Relationship Between James and Dalí

What does James really want for himself? What are his passions and goals? “Dalíland” never makes clear who our protagonist is, and like the audience, he’s a mere observer of Dalí’s life, yet he offers nothing. While James asks questions, we never really see him raise his voice, become upset, hurt, or have emotions kick into second gear. Worse yet, Dalí and James rarely talk to each other in the film so their relationship hardly develops into anything to care about.

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One of the rare scenes of James (Christopher Briney) and Dali together

A Meandering Plot Padding a Limited Story

The story’s synopsis details how James attempts to help Dalí with an upcoming art show,  but that’s just half the movie. Much like Dalí himself in the film, the plot seems to have repeated distractions with Dalí’s delusions and flashbacks that offer nothing substantial to James’ understanding of the man or our interest in his life. The film ultimately seems to lose sight of whose viewpoint this story belongs to, yet no matter which way you tell it, the pieces offered are unsatisfying.

daliland
Dalíland (2023) – Movie Review and Summary (with Spoilers)
Overall
Daliland is filmed well and a harmless watch, but doesn't live up to the antics or potential that a story about Salvador Dali should include. With a wavering viewpoint and underdeveloped characters, Daliland becomes forgettable.
Highlights
Sukowa’s and Kingsley's Chemistry Provides Needed Fun and Drama
Disputable
An Undeveloped Protagonist and Relationship Between James and Dalí
A Meandering Plot Padding a Limited Story
70

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