Blonde

Blonde ★★★★★

The symbol has the world at her feet.

The world stomps the person behind the symbol.

With each era there comes a genre or a style that marks it. Film-noirs marked the 40s and 50s and so did the great Hollywood epics, disaster films and neo-noirs marked the 70s, sci-fi, action and horror blockbusters marked the 80s and 90s and the list goes on.

The past years or so have been marked by an uninspired breed of superhero blockbusters that keep repeating the same formula over and over again yet somehow managing to not tire audiences yet (although it would seem the fatigue is starting to hit in), despite being infested by these films there has been another type of films that has been sort of marking our era of filmmaking and that has been gainig strength in 2022 and that is the celebrity biopic. If we look 5-6 years back we'll some of these biopics that were commercial hits but if we take a closer look at those we'll see they follow very conventional narratives and don't try new or different things; however if we take a look at the 2 biopic hits from 2022, those being Elvis and Blonde, we'll see that the directors of these films are willing to break the conventions and cliches of the genre (and even of the cinematic medium as a whole) and don't care about what will mainstream (and general) audiences think about them, the former goes crazy with its editing and visual storytelling, creating a structurally genius and kinetically trippy ride, and the latter, which is the (somehow) superior film takes risks in pretty much every aspect of its filmmaking, from its themes and structure to its editing, cinematography and sound design, Andrew Dominik was bold and sure about his cinematic ideas which is something I always love to see and even more so in this era of filmmaking where the medium has pretty much reached its peak and has unlimited tools which for some reason that is beyond me are barely used properly by filmmakers nowadays.

There has been lots of controversy around this film ever since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival after some people who saw it refered to this film as exploitative and even as a "glorified porno", then people on twitter, letterboxd and pretty much every other social network started hating on this film senselessly up to the point that it got and is still gettinh review bombed, something extremely childish and stupid if you ask me and being honest it was also one of the reasons of why I have decided to stay away from the internet film community for some time and I do still intend to keep it that way.

But well this isn't about me and how I feel about the internet film community, I'm here to talk about Andre Dominik's "Blonde". A film that won't get the appreciation for some years or even decades, a masterful exercise in exploring the emotions, thoughts and sensations of a beautiful, talented and successful woman who created an image that became a symbol and ended up shattering her identity.

Although it does fall under the category of a biopic this film is fiction, it is not directly based on Marilyn Monroe's life, it is based on Joyce Carol Oates' novel "Blonde" (1999). Although all the characters in this film were real people they stay as characters, film characters, this is historical fiction, and the film itself acknowldges that, it doesn't want to achieve suspension of disbelief in the viewer, it doesn't want to be historically accurate or to convince us that we are actually watching Marilyn Monroe's life on the screen, no, Monroe and all the characters who surround her in this film are used as devices to tell a story about what I previously mentioned, about how a sexually provocative and appealing symbol shatters the person who becomes the symbol. It is an uncomfortable commentary and criticism of not only the Classic Hollywood studio system which was marked by a severe and strong sexism but it is also a deconstruction of the toxic male gaze and its morbidity which was the main responsible of Monroe's success as a sexual icon. The film shows how the majority of producers and spectators of the time liked to see the "sexy dumb blonde" and that stimulated their imagination, and something the film gives a special focus is how all the male characters of the film are shocked by hearing Monroe's character talk about Dostoievsky novels and the profound analyses she made of the screenplays she was handed, she wanted to be Norma Jeanne but the world she lived in demanded Marilyn Monroe, all of this resulted into her going through emotional, mental and physical breakdowns and crises which led to her own destruction, Blonde is a film about how beauty, which is a gift, ends up becoming a curse in a perverted, ugly and rotten world.

If there's a facet of the human condition that really fascinates me and that is also a common theme in cinema (and art as a whole) is the eternal nonconformism of humans, we're never pleased with what we have and we always want what others have, as they say: "the grass is always greener on the other side" and this is also a theme Blonde deals with, Marilyn Monroe wants to have a normal life, she wants a family and wants to stay from Hollywood, and yet one of her assistants tells her at some point of the film "every woman would give her right arm to have what you have", no one is ever pleased with what they have in this film, and here is where the genius of the aspect ratio changes in this film comes in.

The film changes between black and white and color and uses different aspects ratios throughout its entire 167 minutes long runtime, something I noticed was that only at one point of the film we get to see color and a completely opened aspect ratio, and one would think this will happen during a moment where Marilyn felt successful as an actress or during one of her weddings or what one would think are "happy moments", well this isn't the case, and here's where the destruction of any cliches or conventionalisms happens- the only moment where we as viewers feel complete freedom and peace is when Marilyn is looking out the window in silence, that's it, and personally I relate to this because sometimes whenever I look out the window and turn off my mind is when I feel completely free and pleased, one feels freedom when one feels nothing and desires nothing, during that small moment Marilyn Monroe felt nothing and didn't want anything, then of course, reality came in and shattered her peace in one of the most impressionistically devastating sequences I've ever seen.

I feel that an impressionistic approach to films is the right thing to do in this era of filmmaking and many of my favorite films from recent years use this technique, The Tree of Life, The Great Beauty and even Elvis being some examples of this, Blonde does use this filmmaking technique but just during certain parts of it, those being the most impactful, some are uplifting and awe-inspiring and others are utterly devastating, during the other moments of the film we see different techniques being used by Andrew Dominik without ever having the film lose its balance, we see a cinema verité approach during most of Norma Jeanne's childhood and then we see Dominik immediately switch to a surreal style, this shouldn't work at all but the self-aware nature of the film makes it work, as I said the film doesn't try to create a suspension of disbelief in us because this would imply that although our disbelief is suspended we stay as nothing more than mere viewers, instead this film accepts its nature of being a film and having the inevitable limits all films have of being that, films, by doing this it invites us to become part of the film without ever forgetting this is fiction, it has realistically human characters, situations and emotions that effectively get to us without ever forgetting it is fiction, and personally (with some exceptions of course) stronger emotions are achieved in me when the film accepts it is just a film and invites me to become part of it, and this is what Blonde does best, we hear a voiceover narration of Marilyn pretty much talking at us and referring to her own life as a film that she carefully analyzes, what I feel she said to me is that she always felt her life was nothing more than an absurdist tragicomedy with scenes that dragged on forever and that she felt added nothing to her life and personality. Sometimes Ana De Armas, who gives a career-defining performance as Marilyn Monroe stares right at the camera and screams for help at us without saying a word, she says it all with her eyes, and whenever she does actually have to scream and go through emotional breakdowns she is flawless at portraying such things, she also has some uncomfortable scenes which, contrary to popular belief, are not gratuitous exploitation, those scenes are there to make us physically ill and disgusted which is exactly how Monroe feels during these moments.

Although most of the film is shown from Monroe's perspective during the part of the film where she becomes Marilyn Monroe a voyeuristic approach is used by Dominik to show us what is this toxic masculinity that invaded (and still invades) Hollywood for years which sexualized women and took advantage of their vulnerability and sexual appeal to make money and gain success, which is also something the film portrays to perfection, this voyeuristic part is there to showcase and make us see the sexual morbidity these men had from their own morbid perspective, things like these are what make films great.

Going back to Monroe's perspective, Ana De Armas' performance is just layered as the character she portrays and the complicity she creates with the audience makes us capable of seeing inside her complex psyche which would require volumes of books to be completely analyzed and dissected, we see her childhood and adulthood traumas, we see and experience her eternal search for her father who she never gets to meet but that also becomes an omnipresent character and narrator until a key revelation takes place during the third act. Dominik uses quick cuts to flashbacks of what traumatized and still traumatizes our protagonist, there was one scene that reminded me of Straw Dogs (1971) in the way it used editing to portray a trauma created by sexual violence, at other times Dominik uses quick and intoxicating camera movements to send us into the plane of the subconscious where past, present and dreams meet and add even more depth to the main character of the film.

Marilyn Monroe seeked for freedom and peace, and honestly I think that is something we can all relate to, the aspect ratio never opens completely, and when it does it is in black and white, even in those moments of sheer hapiness and fulfilment there's an underlying sadness and melancholy and a sad moment that will devastate the hapiness is right around the corner, sometimes life looks distorted like if a filter was put over everything, sometimes the beauty that surrounds us and that is inside us amazes us and makes infinitely happy but the inability to see and feel everything all at once makes us feel locked, having a desire or an ideal may make us suffer because that's the price of hope, and having too much hope for an ideal or a desire can be damaging, and even deadly, most especially if that ideal ends up being a lie, you can be a prisoner of your desires and be happy because of the hope that comes with this imprisonment, but once you find out the reason of that imprisonement was a lie life will lose all meaning, the aspect ratio won't matter anymore and all you can do is wait for it all to end as expect for infinity to be the only limit once you leave this plane of imprisonement and reach the stars.

One of the saddest but also one of the most beautiful and inspiring films of our time.

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