Courtney Howard is an OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
For a performer, the line between your public persona and your private one can be a thin one. Some are more gifted at knowing precisely how to tow that line. Others, however, are not as lucky with this in life, but rather in death as it’s those same performers who are rewarded posthumously, memorialized in a glittery, glamorous biopic. Real life superstar Dalida gets the cinematic treatment in director Lisa Azuelos’ titular film. The musical drama tackles more than just the stereotypical rise and fall of a gorgeous, emotionally tortured chanteuse. Moreso, it stands as a stinging commentary on the female identity and the public’s insatiable demands for more from their idols. It’s absolutely phenomenal – and one of the best biopics you’ll ever see (if a US distribution company picks it up), simply because it transcends biopic convention.
The persona the world knows as iconic performer “Dalida” (Sveva Alviti) was born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti in Cairo, Egypt to Italian parents. The struggle between these dueling facets of her psyche will remain a constant. As a baby, she survived sight problems through the power of music and as a young girl endured cruel Catholic schoolgirl taunts by her classmates. Blossoming into her stunning good looks certainly helped her find a record deal and romance with first husband Lucien Morisse (Jean-Paul Rouve). But as she’s about to learn the hard way, bliss is fleeting and tragedy is prevalent. Though she proves to be a monstrous success professionally, personally her life is a disaster: She’s dragged through the press for her torrid affairs with painter Jean Sobieski (Niels Schneider), singer Luigi Tenco (Alessandro Borghi) and 22-year-old student Lucio (Brenno Placido), falls victim to a societal double standard, and sets aside self-care for the show to go on.
DALIDA is equally as riveting, entrancing and commanding as the stage presence to whom it pays tribute. Azuelos covers the international phenom’s 54 year lifespan in rich detail, yet does not overstuff the story – a genuine feat given the run time is a little over 2 hours. She subtly spotlights the profound micro-aggressions Dalida faced thanks to the broken male figures in her life, tasked to balance her human yearnings for love and normalcy with her career’s need for longevity and relevancy. Her psychological pain, vulnerability and fragility reverberates, most times wisely placed at the forefront of the narrative. The push-pull struggle between the person and professional is evident in every corner of the frame: During Lucien’s proposal, we see Dalida’s splintered self reflected. When she admits to Lucien she wants to be a mother and housewife, he counters “Those normal women dream of being you!” And when she cheats on him, Lucien is mad mostly from a manager’s perspective rather than of that of a husband’s. When Dalida finally chooses her career aspirations over personal dreams, it’s heartbreaking.
Azuelos also makes insightful connections about the performer and her fans, emphasizing the epic and the intimate. When told after her first suicide attempt that her music gives people hope, she answers, “Who will give me hope?” Outside of the Amy Winehouse documentary, AMY, this fascinating topic isn’t typically tackled in biopics. Plus, it’s also refreshing to see a music biopic that doesn’t have its tragic figurehead stereotypically lose it to drugs and booze. Her greatest downfall is the support unconditional love brings.
Camerawork and editing play a huge part in infusing the picture with a momentous, electric energy. Baptiste Druot’s crisp, clean cuts are essential in montages – such as Lucien leaving his first wife for Dalida, and in the juxtaposition between Dalida’s warm, golden memories of a shared hotel bed with Luigi and her stark, cold hospital bed where she lays having attempted suicide.
Unlike most American biopics (I’m looking right at you, J. EDGAR!), makeup effects aren’t around to distract the audience. Even the costume and hair design don’t pull you out of the story. The clothing and hairstyles feel as fresh now as they did then. Sure, hot-tempered boyfriend Richard Chanfray (Nicolas Duvauchelle) channels James Spader in his heyday. Regardless, there’s a timelessness imparted upon the picture. Production design also brilliantly doesn’t call attention to itself and still manages to be perfectly pristine.
Perhaps who shines brightest is the woman channeling the titular woman, actress Sveva Alviti. She’s incandescent, portraying the singing sensation genuinely minus any mimicry – something you’d think would be impossible, but Alviti does it with superb aplomb. Her resemblance to the superstar is uncanny, but what’s truly remarkable is her connection to the character’s emotive drive, never more evident than during her performance of the gut-wrenching ballad, “Je suis malade.” Dialogue that may sound cheesy coming from lesser talent is grounded in a deeply-rooted authenticity. Not only can she adeptly handle recreating Dalida’s powerhouse performances, Alviti is best at handling the character’s introspective journey. While there are many quiet corners of this film, restraint is best utilized during the restaurant scene with brother/manager Bruno/Orlando (played by JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2’s Riccardo Scamarcio), whom Azuelos also collaborated with on the writing.
Beyond the lights stood a woman who yearned to have love and share love. It’s a tragedy she succumbed to the darkness, but Azuelos’ film magnificently captures her essential light.
DALIDA plays ColCoa on April 28. It currently has no US distribution – something I sincerely hope changes toute suite.
***UPDATE*** DALIDA will be release by Under The Milky Way Distribution in Fall 2017.