Thursday, October 19, 2017

DALIDA: Lisa Azuelos' beautiful-to-view (and hear) biopic gets L.A. debut prior to VOD

Quite a bit better than the run-of-the-mill, musical celebrity bio-pic, DALIDA, tracking the life and career of one of, if not the most popular European singers of the 20th Century, is a gorgeous movie to both behold and listen to. With the actual Dalida singing many of her most popular songs (along with those of some other greats of that century) and, spanning as it does the 1950s through the 1980s, filled with scrumptious (if sometimes tacky: remember the 70s?) period detail, and filmed with a eye for interesting composition and ace cinematography (Antoine Sanier), the movie is a consistent joy to view.

As written and directed by French screenwriter/ filmmaker Lisa Azuelos (shown at right) and adapted from the book by Orlando (Dalida's brother) and Catherine Rihoit, the movie begins with a look at our heroine, brought to surprisingly nuanced life by Italian actress Sveva Alviti (shown above and below), who looks enough like the singer to more than pass muster, and who also lipsyncs and performs the songs with a physicality that mimics the original's own style and grace (you can compare the two by watching various videos).

TrustMovies admits that some of his great enjoyment of this film may have come because he knew next to nothing about Dalida before sitting down to view the movie. He knew her name and that she was hugely successful in France, but that's it. (His spouse, who follows the music scene more thoroughly, had never heard of her at all.) Consequently, this icon's story was new and held quite a bit of interest for him, though how die-hard fans of the singer reacted to this bio-pic, he can't say.

Ms Azuelos begins her tale in media res, with some quick, sharp moments during which Dalida leaves Paris for somewhere that it is clear her family and friends don't want her to go. It's to meet a lover, and so we spend some time between the sheets, philosophizing and making love. Suddenly, we're confronted with the singer's suicide attempt, which happened mid-career.

As Dalida slowly recovers, Ms Azuelos moves us back and forth in time, picking up bits and pieces of her family history, early career (above), love life and more. One of the cleverest methods of exposition here is done via her post-suicide psychologist's interviews with the various important people in her life, as he and they try to collectively get our girl back on track. This allows us to not only learn about Dalida, but better explore the character of those giving testimony.

Certain critics have complained about the lack of depth of character in Dalida herself, but this strikes me as simply wrong-headed. What Azuelos has given us instead is a portrait of celebrity and the woman who gladly buried herself under that alluring but unwieldy and very heavy mantle. Nearly every important decision we see her make has to do with maintaining that celebrity and career -- from how she handles her lovers to why she has the abortion that will render her sterile. (That's Brenno Placido, above, as the young student by whom she becomes pregnant, and Niels Schneider, below, as a Polish prince with whom she has earlier become involved.)

Occasionally, the woman beneath all that celebrity surfaces and her needs make themselves known. But always career comes first. Interestingly enough, there are no villains here. The movie doesn't need them, since Dalida is pretty much her own worst enemy, even if she herself seems to be a relatively kind and decent person. With an unhappy childhood to deal with, even given her wonderful voice and great physical beauty, the gain did not finally outweigh the pain.

Dalida's choice of lovers would appear a bit suspicious, too. When three of the several men with whom you're involved take their own life (not to mention Dalida's own suicide attempt and then its consummation), there's clearly a problem at hand. (Above, left, is Jean-Paul Rouve, as the man who discovers her, whom she eventually marries, and who later suicides; below left is Nicolas Duvauchelle, as one of her later and most narcissistic lovers who also takes his own life.

While the movie refuses to offer any tidy explanations for any of this, the feeling we're left with, despite the talent and beauty on hand, is one of sadness at the waste of it all. (Below is pictured Alessandro Borghi, as would-be singer Luigi Tenco, the first of Dalida's suicidal amors.)

Our heroine even has something of a movie career, too; at one point, the famous Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine has her star in one of his films (below), and once the disco craze hits, she becomes a gay icon -- in France, if not here in the USA.

Along the way, in addition to the wonderful period detail, we get a raft of good music -- mostly snippets, granted, but they're certainly enjoyable ones -- and enough biographical material to complete yet another sad tale of great musical celebrity gone to disarray.

From Under the Milky Way -- in French, Italian and Arabic with English subtitles -- and running  a long but consistently interesting 127 minutes, Dalida will get a one-night-only theatrical appearance in the Los Angeles area as part of the Laemmle Culture Vulture series, this coming Monday, October 23, at 7:30 pm at four Laemmle theaters: Claremont 5, Playhouse 7Royal 3 and Town Center 5. Click here for more information and/or tickets.

In addition the film will also be the opening night, November 3, presentation at the ARPA International Film Festival at the world-famous Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.  And if you aren't located in the L.A. area, despair not: Dalida will be released on all major VOD platforms across the country on Tuesday, December 5.

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