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The Persistence of Documentary

Atelier de Production

Daaaaaalí! (2024)

Quentin Dupieux is completely insane; and this is meant as an extreme compliment. His movies are utterly unpredictable, to the point where it’s permanently impossible to guess what will happen from one moment to the next, and generally acted in a deadpan style of extreme normality even in the most incongruous or hilarious situations. You can hear the glee of the people who decided to screen at this at the London Film Festival from here. On the surface, “Daaaaaalí!” is about the attempts of a young journalist named Judith (Anaïs Demoustier) to interview the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí (played interchangeably by Edouard Baer, Jonathan Cohen, Gilles Lellouche, Didier Flamand and Pio Marmaï) for her first documentary film. In reality, it is a surrealistic dreamscape about dreams coming true, priest-killing cowboys, car accidents, cowboy-killing priests and whether a former barista can ever leave her past behind. It is almost indescribably strange and that makes it wonderful.

It is pointless to summarize the plot any further than the above. This is surrealism! How do you otherwise explain the sequences where Dalí and Judith are chatting in a hallway as Dalí walks, and walks, and walks, but never gets any closer to her, which is very, very funny? How many dreams are discussed at the dinner party, or are they all dreams inside of dreams? Also the food, which people eat with straight faces, is some of the most repellent ever shown on a cinema screen – one stew is boiling over with maggots – and the fact Judith can run as fast as a car, and the slow car on the beach killing someone without anyone really noticing (except the audience, which does not whether to laugh or gasp) and – well, either you like surrealism or you don’t.

Either you don’t bat an eye as five different brown-haired men slap on a giant fake mustache, wave around a cane and visibly enjoy making portentous and pretentious statements to Judith as she diligently scribbles notes, or you don’t. Either you have a great time watching one of the biggest stars of current French cinema, Romain Duris, beaming like a kid with a bottomless cookie jar as he mocks his industry’s worst players as Judith’s abrasive producer, or you want your movies to have an easily summed-up plot. But that’s not what you get with Mr. Dupieux. His movies follow dream logic and are equally outrageous, frightening and ridiculous, sometimes in the same breath; the audience I was part of for his earlier film, “Smoking Causes Coughing,” all screamed with shock when the barracuda started talking; and it’s been a very long time since a non-horror movie has delivered such an effective jump scare. Either you enjoy 79 minutes of having absolutely no idea, none, of what might happen next, or you should avoid “Daaaaaalí!” But that would be such a shame. There is literally nothing else like this out there; and that means it deserves all our attention. Oh, and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk did the music, the repetition of which makes the movie even funnier. Please don’t deny yourself the pleasure.


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