On September 8, at the Venice Film Festival, and on the 28th, another biopic about the legendary Marilyn Monroe was released on Netflix. Andrew Dominic (“How Cowardly Robert Redford Killed Jesse James”, “Casino Robbery”) undertook to write the script for this film, as well as direct it, and the main role was played by the Cuban-Spanish beauty Ana de Armas. In the review below, we understand why this film is worth watching.
“Белиавка” / Blonde
Genre biographical drama
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Ana de Armas, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody, Xavier Samuel
Release year 2022
“The Blonde” is already the second adaptation of the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, which tells about the unbearably difficult and tragic fate of the titular heroine. But, following the example of a literary primary source, Dominik in his work does not set the goal of accurately portraying Monroe’s biography in a documentary manner.
And in general, it introduces the viewer closer to Norma Jean Baker – always a small, abandoned and lonely girl, who only pretended to be a charming, happy and extremely successful woman, who became a real sex symbol of the 50s and the embodiment of the American dream, which for many so it remained something unattainable. First of all, this is a story about Norma’s inner experiences, her own dreams and hopes, which were never destined to come true.
This is a story about the dirty rules of the film industry in the middle of the last century, despite the fact that this era is still called golden in Hollywood. This is a story about the impossibility of Marilyn to build exactly the career she wanted, because the exploitative image of a stupid blonde created by the studio became the actress’s calling card and it was almost impossible to stick to it.
Before that, the public of that time, especially men, only wanted from Monroe such performances as a frivolous girl – from her point of view, humiliating and idiotic, as if she did not embody them so well on the screen. When the girl started thinking about Dostoevsky or Chekhov, the studio bosses had no choice but to laugh in response and appreciate the attractive figure of the beauty.
So, looking at the main character from the side from which she is shown in “Bilyavka”, comes a steady understanding that no fame could replace Norma with what she really wanted, namely, simple human happiness. To be understood, loved and respected. So that the father would calm down and say, at least once in his life, how much he loves his little girl. So that her mother was pleased with her success. But it was an unattainable dream given the various factors that mostly did not even depend on her. Could the fate of such a broken and vulnerable woman be any other than tragic? The question is, of course, rhetorical.
In “Bilyavka”, although Dominik talks about important events from the life of a famous character, his work can only seem like a sweeping biopic and infinitely far from modern traditional biographical films from Hollywood. The latter can show off big budgets and bright scenes, surprise with incredible acting reincarnations or, if necessary, wonderful musical numbers, but due to lack of time they are not able to fully reveal the character of the characters and are forced to develop the narrative in the rhythm of “galloping across Europe” (one of the last such projects was “Elvis” by Baz Luhrmann). “Bilyavtsi” does not have such problems at all, because it follows a completely different path.
This film is more radical and deep, and therefore much bolder. In its pessimistic mood, it is closer to the experimentalism of Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days”, which told about the end of Kurt Cobain’s journey. First of all, this is an attempt to get into Marilyn’s head, and not under her skirt, as the obsessed crowd chanting her name, consisting mainly of lustful men with mouths deliberately deformed, like Ghostface’s, wanted.
This is a whimsical journey into endless suffering, as if the creators had no other goal than to expose the soul (and a bit of the body) of the unfortunate star, meticulously demonstrating all the troubles in her life as if under a microscope. Meanwhile, this is also a manipulative film to some extent, because just as the verbose primary source is difficult to read, this surprisingly depressing narrative literally screams that the main character deserves sincere sympathy like no other.
But what you can not worry about one hundred percent is the reincarnation performed by de Armas: she not only visually resembles Marilyn (sometimes even surprisingly similar), but also perfectly demonstrates herself as a serious dramatic actress – ironically, this is exactly such a difficult role, to which Monroe herself so longed for. This is a really powerful acting challenge, and Ana, without a doubt, was able to cope with it.
And the creators do not shy away from experimenting with the image: it constantly changes the aspect ratio and jumps from color to monochrome and vice versa. At the same time, Chase Irwin’s camera, as if glued, follows the performer of the main part everywhere, catches many close-ups of her face so that the viewer can better feel the emotional state of the character, and shoots as if “from the shoulder” during dynamic moments when, for example, Marilyn is running with all her might along the corridor Some scenes are subject to intentional visual distortion, such as episodes where the picture loses sharpness. All this works for one or another effect or emotion that the authors are trying to evoke.
Moments look interesting when something happens in the frame, and the viewer knows for sure what the heroine is feeling at that moment, and then the scenes take on a completely different meaning or context. Sometimes Marilyn’s thoughts are voiced directly, as was the case in the scene where she is forced to give a blowjob to John F. Kennedy, and this kind of soft pornographic content, including the participation of the President of the United States and the use of extreme close-up of the process, can hardly be expected from a traditional mainstream biopic . However, there is no evidence of such a case, because, as in the work of Oates, something here is true, and something else is fiction, but in the end it does not matter what exactly.
The great Hitchcock once said that a film is a life from which the stains of boredom have been removed, and thanks to editing tricks, the story in the film really looks as if everything that is not worth the viewer’s attention has been removed from it. This is an unconventional biographical film, in which a bunch of differences collided, such as success and failure, fame and oblivion, the Hollywood glamor of the 50s and the disgusting internal kitchen of the film industry of that time, and also – the authenticity of one’s “self” and the artificiality of a fictional alter ego, albeit terribly successful All these and many other contradictions best characterize the image and life of Marilyn herself.
As in the above-mentioned “Last Days”, in “Bilyavka” the soul of the lifeless heroine will leave the physical shell, and then she will smile coquettishly at the viewer, as only she can. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to smile in response to the sadness that the film suggests.
Pros: a story that is able to touch, a beautiful performance by Ana de Armas, a non-standard approach to the genre, powerful musical accompaniment Cons: the optionality of some scenes and, as a consequence, a little procrastination, the lack of Ukrainian voice acting Conclusion:
In Bilyavka, the director has no intention of compromising with the audience (although, perhaps, he still had to cut the most frank scenes), and de Armas produces such a confident work that it is absolutely impossible to remain indifferent to the suffering of her heroine