A film that warns of the dangers of meeting your heroes, Daliland puts an enthusiastic but naive young art fan into the orbit of Catalan artist Salvador Dali, who has a stormy and surreal affair with his Russian wife Gala.
Daliland had its world premiere on 17 September 2022 at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. In November 2022, Magnolia Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film. The film will be released in cinemas in the United States on 9 June 2023, while in Turkey it was released on 2 June.
Director Mary Harron’s Dalíland is set in the world of 1973, where we follow the elderly Dali (Ben Kingsley) through the eyes of a young gallery assistant named James (Christopher Briney). Although screenwriter John Walsh’s script includes some flashbacks in which the audience observes the artist’s younger years objectively, the main focus is on the characters surrounding Dalí rather than Dalí himself. At the centre of this is his wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa), who is both his main supporter and, as we learn, one of the many people who may have been using him.
“Daliland”, which premiered on the closing night of the Toronto International Film Festival, opens with Dalí watching his appearance on the competition programme “What’s My Line?” and seeing a report that he has suffered serious burns in a house fire. The story then flashes back ten years, when fresh blood James has dropped out of art school and is running errands for a salesman. Tasked with delivering money to the artist, James is warned that if Dalí’s wife Gala approaches him, he should politely decline.
In need of a new assistant, Dalí asks to borrow James, nicknaming him San Sebastian. The young man persuades his employer to take him on, promising to look after the artist and keep him on the job before the opening in three weeks’ time.
Newcomer James finds that the legend he idolised is a shell of his former self and not in the mood to create. While Gala is having fun with her latest favourite, Jeff (Zachary Nachbar-Seckel), nicknamed “Jesus” after his starring role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Dalí secretly decides to spend a night on the town. The late-career artist tries to trick uneducated collectors with shoddy lithographs to finance his extravagant spending, while Gala siphons off most of the money to support Jeff’s musical endeavours.
In his press notes, producer Sam Pressman describes the film as “Almost Famous” in the art world, and the description is apt. The screenplay, written by Harron’s husband John C. Walsh, focuses on James coming of age and losing his innocence amidst all the craziness. The mechanics of Dalí and Gala’s marriage are fascinating, and Walsh does a marvellous job of detailing it, taking into account Gala’s contribution to both the artist’s career and his decline.