The 2014 Cannes Film Festival-opener is a dire regal biopic which clearly doesn't realise what the hell it is saying.
In classical fairy tales, there's always a horrid, malodorous antagonist who's out to wreak senseless havoc on a world of holy innocents. Here, the essence of this evil is the idea of big business having to pay income tax. This is a story about the sterling and wily efforts made by the crusty members of the European aristocracy to rid the world of this fiscal fug.
Howling "death to taxes!" from atop her ice-white steed is Nicole Kidman playing Princess Grace of Monaco, née Oscar-winner and temporary Hitchcock perve totem, Grace Kelly. Yet she's somewhat muddled in her ideology, as on one hand she wants to make sure that horrible M. De Gaulle doesn't impose economic sanctions on her bejewelled tax haven, and on the other, she's baffled and disgusted by the state of a local hospital. How else do you think hospitals are able to operate, your majesty?
Olivier Dahan looks like he may have had a little tax trouble of his own, in that he's made what should be a luxe period biopic with chic fashions and resplendent interiors, but has ended up with a film which looks as if any corner that could have been cut was cut, and then cut some more.
Exhibit A: the lilo. There are two scenes set in the lavish family bolthole of Grace and her new husband, Prince Ranier (AKA Ray), played by Tim Roth, a moustache and a crystal tumbler affixed to his right paw. Floating in their outdoor pool is the saddest looking lilo in the history of cinema. It looks like it was rescued from a bin outside a small, northern outdoor clothing wholesaler. The colours are off with the rest of the frame. It just doesn't look like a lilo of royalty. It sticks out.
Exhibit B: the archive recreations. It's a probable necessity when making a film about the private life of a movie star that Zelig-like digital impositions would need to take place in order to supplant this magnetic manqué into the annals of broadcast history. Dahan has somehow made his flashes of newsreel and '60s television broadcasts look like they're being beamed in from the future, directly from the hard-drive of a busted first generation iMac.
Kidman's dress and make-up throughout the film are immaculate. If only Dahan had been so attentive with these vital technical details which serve to immerse the viewer in the period and, by extension, the story. When we see these films within the film, their fake celluloid scuffs looking exactly like fake celluloid scuffs. They jump out of the frame, shattering any and all illusion and making it look like the director had neither the inclination nor budget to make them appear authentic.
Aside from these minor, but visible cinematic blemishes, the film's greatest failing is in the way it makes Grace come across as a braying, starry-eyed nag who'd rather bat her eyelids as a wife and mother than retain some semblance of independence as one of the world's most celebrated movie actors. You could accuse the film of pandering to a conservative vision of the patriarch breadwinner family set-up, though that would infer that Dahan was a director capable of possessing such filmmaking fundamentals as vision. Worse than a film that pedals propaganda of any stripe is one that does so without realising it. And even worse, one that does so and hopes its audience will be too dazzled by the plunging necklines and precipitous piles of Cartier swag to notice.
This is a film about the ways in which people can repackage contempt, and on those grounds it almost works. Grace Kelly, taking time out from a Red Cross gala to meet her fans, apparently loved her subjects so much that she thought nothing of using them as political pawns in her hubby's chest-bumping turf war. In a similar way, screenwriter Arash Amel also displays contempt for the audience of this film, stating and re-stating and stating once more that being a movie actor and a princess really ain't so different. They're just roles, don't you know?
Added to that, we have an entire (and very spurious) King's Speech-lite subplot involving Derek Jacobi as daffy popinjay Count Fernando D'Aillieres, ushered in to sculpt and refine Grace's regal performance technique. He holds up cards with emotions written on them and which Kidman then has to recreate. He makes sure that she's able to uphold a wipe-clean image and rule with implacable and fragrant sereneness. It is an interesting and worthy idea for a movie, but Dahan's high-gloss mode of articulation is lacking even a scintilla of grace. He just holds up cards and prays to God that we emote on cue.