Olivier Dahan is inarguably a genius. He is also, perhaps less clearly, a madman.
I was expecting to tweet, perhaps Vine, a quick reaction to Grace of Monaco, but the film defied my urge to a quick, clean reaction. It is glorious, magical, inspired… and missing… something. But I have a powerful urge to revisit it – which my afternoon schedule unfortunately disallows, for now – to try to get a better handle on it.
The premise starts out blurry and comes into focus as the story develops. While watching the early scenes, I found myself giddily looking forward to the plunge off the side of the road, an inevitable mixture of high camp and advertising level photography. But while it is repeatedly foreshadowed, he moment never arrives… and by the middle of the 2nd act, I was no longer looking forward to it. Dahan starts out with hyperbolized Sirk, mixed liberally with Hitchcock (who owns the 2nd act and the entire score), and slowly tones it down, perhaps even underplaying the melodrama while still maintaining the visual style.
The question about the film for me, is whether the equation really adds up. But the pieces along the way are pretty glorious.
Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances here. She has been pushing away from her movie star tricks for the last couple of years and this role really demands layers of self-awareness that are heretofore unseen in her roles. She’s been playing rawness lately, chasing more natural performances, but this is a role that doesn’t allow that freedom. Kidman’s Grace is almost always performing on some level.
And in the few moments of raw vulnerability, Dahan likes to shove the camera right in Kidman’s face, not only in close-up, but cutting the top and bottom of her face. We can see the veins in her eyes and the (tiny) pores in her skin. Yet, as with so much of the performance, Kidman’s stillness pulls us in.
The running gag about Kidman (which I always felt was wildly overstated) was that Botox had ruined her acting. Watching these close-ups, I almost felt as though Dahan was telling Kidman’s critics to fuck off and watch her act with her eyes alone.
Great supporting cast. Tim Roth has an unforgiving role, but I still loved watching him. Robert Lindsay was nearly unrecognizable and great as Ari Onassis, begging the question of why the great movie about Onassis has never been made. Paz Vega is a surprise as Maria Callas. Roger Ashton Griffiths does the best on-camera Hitchcock ever. Seriously. Never seems to be working for a second. Dead on. Gotta love Parker Posey working with a dry stick right up her ass. Derek Jacobi doing the aging queen of grace is a tickle. And Langella is both perfect and effortlessly purring as the father confessor.
But this movie is, in the end, all Dahan and Kidman. For better and worse.
By the end, I got it. All in. But it took half a movie to get me there. Is that a flaw or a virtue?
Likewise, having not seen the rest of the footage, I have no idea if Harvey Weinstein is right or being an ass. The movie is only 1:40, so it’s not a length issue. And I’m not sure it can be “fixed” because Dahan’s style is so idiosyncratic. Or that it needs to be fixed.
Besides faces, just the level of Dahan’s taste and skill is in evidence in scene after scene. Obviously, he has collaborators who are also adding and are skilled (like editor Oliver Gajan)… but some of the cutting is so well designed that you have to assume it was shot to cut that way.
Anyway… I have a feeling that this film will “improve” with time. Could be wrong. But I walked out of the first screening of Cannes 2014 feeling like I’d been presented with a real movie. And I was happy.