The trailer of “Blonde” (2022) directed by Andrew Dominik.
Before the release of his film, which took him almost 20 years to design, New Zealand director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, One More Time with Feeling), defined Blonde as if “Citizen Kane and Raging Bull had a baby daughter”. However, it would be more accurate to say that this nearly three-hour-long feature follows in the footsteps of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) or Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995), while evoking Apocalypse Now (1979) in some of the nightmarish scenes. But does it live up to these masterpieces?
The fake biopic based on the mythical bestseller Blonde written by the American Joyce Carol Oates offers a romanticized vision of the life of the great Marilyn Monroe. First and foremost, it stands as a critique of Hollywood, of the world of entertainment, and of patriarchy, at the risk of erasing key moments in the star’s life and career. Starring Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas (James Bond: No Time to Die, Blade Runner 2049) in the lead role, the film strives to portray a woman who is in a constant state of abuse. First of all by her mother, who repeatedly assaults the little girl, then by the men working in the film, literature, or sport industries, and finally, in politics.
This dark and baroque film, which was presented at the last Venice Film Festival, is forbidden to children under 18 as it features realistic sex scenes, and shocking scenes of physical and psychological violence. Between these raw shots, filmed at times like monstrosities worthy of a horror movie, or like an art house’s feature, the audience can catch a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe during an audition, trying to gain respect as an actress. We can also see her declaiming metaphysical lines or crying over her fate in some other poetical moments. Yet we never really witness the star playing major roles or multiplying takes on set, in short, doing her job.
The icon’s innocence and evanescent charm are well-portrayed. There is the rightful depiction of a fragile woman, who never knew her father, suffered from her mother’s madness, wanted to be loved at all costs and to have a child. But where is the incandescent idol who shone in films such as Some Like It Hot (1959), or sought to perfect her acting skills? What about the left-wing woman who loved to read, educate herself, or throw herself into psychoanalysis? The various layers of Marilyn Monroe’s, aka Norma Jean Baker’s, complex, resilient and exciting personality are glossed over to favor trickery with adventurous camera moves and sound effects playing on noise, music, and silence.
Ana de Armas and Andrew Dominik chose to defend a version of the myth of Marilyn Monroe that portrays her as a childish ingenue, who is constantly been victimized and wounded, like a lost Bambi caught in the headlights of a car. The director wants to denounce patriarchy and the powerful, manipulative men in the film industry – who evoke prehistoric versions of Weinstein – but he carries on the same pattern with his scabrous, raunchy, and often quite reductive images. It sometimes moves us, especially when it lingers on Norma Jean Baker’s melancholy, loneliness, and quest for identity, and it also disturbs us or feels sensationalist at times. But the infernal Blonde is not the film “for all the unloved children of the world” that the director had dreamed of, nor a great feminist and revolutionary work that will make history. It is above all the umpteenth male fantasy cultivating the cliché of the gorgeous silly young woman waiting for her savior. Neither the dreamy and bewitching soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, nor the aesthetic black and white shots managed to save it from boredom, bad taste, and chaos.
“Blonde” (2022) by Andrew Dominik, available on Netflix on September 23rd.