Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:28 am 
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String of hits, chain of woes

Musical biopics tand to be a slog, but they have special stories to tell that the fans want to see. Not so good with Dalida, which reels out every cliché and is little more than a string of montages, lip-sync songs, and disastrous boyfriends, many of whom, like the star, commit suicide. Read on to see if this is the kind of punishment you love.

Dalida (Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti) was born in Egypt in an Italian family and went on to become a French singing star and actress. We've never heard of her, and yet she is technically the biggest singing star of France: she had more hits and recorded more songs than anybody, and even though she ended her life at 54 in 1987, her career spanned three decades, and she managed to make the leap from ballads to disco quite seamlessly. The statistics are staggering, over 140 million albums and singles worldwide. She's said to have performed in ten languages, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German, English, Japanese, Hebrew, Dutch and Arabic. But though she frequently slips back and forth between Italian and French here, especially with her brother and business partner Orlando (blue-eyed former Italian heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio), the songs are all French in this movie. She does not appear to have written her own songs.

This gives rise to the question of who did write her songs, and her collaboration with songwriters is just one of the interesting things that never comes up to get in the way of the slip-stream montages of leaps to stage, fame, and personal tragedy that clog this tedious string of every biopic cliché.

Sveva Alviti, a newcomer and former Italian model, is beautiful, and looks a lot like the singer, though her lip-syncing isn't always smooth and she's wooden at times: let's just say her performance lacks soul. A lot of the actors look a lot like the people they are playing, down to the details of their clothes and all the other trappings like flashy cars. This is a lavish production that focuses more on surfaces than on what was underneath.

There's quite a string of hot guys (and there's nothing wrong with the casting here). Not so much the dowdy little maestro who got Dalida started and was her first husband (played by Jean-Paul Rouve), but all the others. They include the Greek-profiled Niels Schneider as the dreamboat who takes Dalida away from her husband right after their wedding. Alessandro Borghi is Luigi Tenco, a San Remo Festival star who shoots himself when his girlfriend (Dalida) becomes more popular. Nicolas Duvauchelle, at his dreamiest, is done up to closely resemble the singer's glamorous and nutty longtime boyfriend, "alchemist" and "immortal" Richard Chanfray aka the Count of Saint-Germain. (He notably gets jealous - and he becomes more and more annoying - when Dalida makes a hit record with Alain Delon, with the latter just speaking while she sings. Chanfray insists on making a song with Dalida, but it's a bomb, and a bummer.) The young Italian TV star Brenno Placido (son of Michele) briefly charms as a poor student who's paid off to disappear after his intense affair with Dalida leads to pregnancy and an abortion. Then things go downhill for Dalida mentally, and she turns to bulimia among other dysfunctions, though it's not exactly clear why. All the man-tragedies no doubt, plus the pressure and exhaustion of being so long in the public eye.

French director Azuelos (LOL) excels at surfaces, but not at all of them. While the stage performances have all the glitz of a big TV show, the flashbacks to Egypt are totally fake-looking, with robes and fezes pushed to do the job of more authentic trappings. Dalida's original recordings are used freely throughout the film, a boon for fans, and for them that may be, for one time through this two-hour slog, almost enough. Average citizens will just be glad when it's over, if they make it that far. (For more see Jessica Kiang's review for Variety, which (not unjustifiably!) dismisses this film as "a sentimentalized, shallow biopic that looks and sounds better than it is," but nonetheless provides an almost loveingly very detailed description of its construction and contents. ) The AlloCiné press rating summarizing French reviews is a mediocre 3.0; but some French fans of the singer can allow themselves to be swept away, so the AlloCiné spectators score is an enthusiastic 4.1.

Dalida, 127 mins., premiered 30 Nov. 2016 in Paris; only a handful of festival showings, but releases in a dozen countries, including the US in Sept. 2017, but who noticed? US VOD release by Under the Milky Way on all five major platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.

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