Netflix’s ‘Blonde’, starring Ana de Armas

Ana de Armas in Rubio.

Anne of Arms in Blond.
Photo: Netflix

“In the movies they cut everything into little pieces,” says Marilyn Monroe of Ana de Armas midway through. Blond. “It’s like a puzzle, but you’re not the one to put it together.” He’s supposedly talking about the way all movies are put together, but of course it’s also a thinly veiled reference to the way this particular movie was put together. Or better, No together: Andrew Dominic’s Blond is, in effect, a puzzle about Norma Jeane Mortenson and Marilyn Monroe that has been intentionally left incomplete, seen in both compelling and terrifying bits. And he has cut her to pieces, almost literally. From the flashes and klieg lights and the wires surrounding Marilyn that open the film to the endless cruelties inflicted on her body and soul, it is a film about the creation and fragmentation of identity. And it’s brutal, its lush surfaces and recreations of old Hollywood almost always giving way to unspeakable horror.

It is also, to be clear, fiction. Blond is based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which takes many, many liberties with the lives of Marilyn and others. The film makes no pretense of being factual, and moreover, it is such a stylized journey through the life of this character that it would be difficult to find a biographical chronology. (And if she did, it would probably be wrong.) Those looking for a Marilyn Monroe biopic are bound to be disappointed, confused, and/or outraged, which may explain why Netflix has been so cautious about anyone seeing it until its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Regardless, the image is sure to fuel endless rounds of soul-pulverizing debates. In fact, it is designed for, loaded as it is with provocations.

Blond opens with Norma Jeane Mortenson as her emotionally fragile, alcoholic single mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson, in a rather unforgettable performance) tells a little girl that her real father was a very important man with a very important name. A picture of him, a dashing figure in a hat and mustache, hangs above Gladys’s bed. Armed simply with the clue that her father is a big shot living in the Hollywood hills, Norma Jeane will spend the rest of her days searching for this man, both in the real world and through her relationships with men, to many. of which she calls “daddy.”

Dominik has largely structured the film around flawless recreations of footage from Marilyn’s career, but each recreation gives way to something terrifying. Blond it is full of beautiful sequences followed by images that are truly painful to watch. The famous subway grid sequence of Itching seven years it effectively becomes a sprawling, slow-motion public spectacle, as an endless sea of ​​photographers and spectators gawk at her. The song “Bye, Bye Baby” by Gentlemen prefer blondes it becomes a reference to the abortion she reluctantly has to make the film (and also because she fears her mother’s insanity might be genetic). Norma Jeane seeks love and acceptance through the image of Marilyn, which then gives the audience access to the most intimate corners of her life. The film also claims that access. She even goes…into her cervix to show off the aforementioned abortion. Like I said, the movie hurts.

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The three central romantic relationships here: an extended and delusional threesome with gorgeous Hollywood scions Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams); a physically abusive marriage to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale); an emotionally codependent marriage to Arthur Miller (a wonderfully unsettling Adrien Brody), it all speaks to her continuing efforts to define herself. Children of movie stars can feel the oppressive pressure of having famous parents, but for Norma Jeane, at least they know exactly who they are. DiMaggio has used baseball to create a character similar to Marilyn. (“I’m one of the American lottery winners,” he declares.) And Miller, in his own way, is also searching: he’s trying to find a certain Magda he loved in his childhood; he finds it in Marilyn, whom he calls “my Magda”, while she finds yet another version of “dad” in him. And all of these men claim different types of ownership over her. Young people explore her sexually. DiMaggio hits her mercilessly. Miller takes her words and puts them into his works without telling her.

Whether in marriage or other matters, Norma Jeane rarely has agency. The ground never feels safe under her feet. She presents herself to the men’s constant salivation, their huge leering eyes and their surreally swollen, gaping mouths. And those are just the viewers. When she is introduced to the studio director “Mr. Z” (presumably Daryl Zanuck), he immediately bends her over and rapes her; I don’t think she even bothers to say hello. Later, she will be taken to John F. Kennedy’s hotel room by two Secret Service agents, who at one point will lift her a few inches off the ground as they hand her (in their words, like “a piece of meat”) to the president. , who then forces her to fellate him (close-up) as he watches coverage of nuclear missiles on TV and listens to a man (J. Edgar Hoover, presumably) berate him over the phone over accusations of sexual impropriety. Marilyn is then carried out again, dazed and injured, the camera pans and rotates around her. At times, the film feels like a slaughterhouse seen from the animal’s point of view.

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There is something repetitive in all this, to be sure, but Blond it is never tedious or boring. Dominik’s visual and sonic imagination works overtime to turn each sequence into an expressionistic and expressive journey, superbly shot dream-factory fantasies slipping into labyrinthine horrors. (The drifting, gently lamenting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis also helps.) But also, Ana de Armas conquers us. Her acting is not exactly what you would expect. Without a doubt, she is totally committed to a role that requires intense physicality, lots of nudity and tears. And she deftly mimics Monroe’s breathless speaking style. But she still has traces of her accent, which the movie doesn’t hide. That gives the whole effort a somewhat performative quality… which, of course, is the point of the film. Ana de Armas does not inhabit the role of Marilyn Monroe. Rather, the role of Marilyn Monroe inhabits Ana de Armas, as a tortured, possibly malevolent, spirit.

Blond it is beautiful, fascinating, and sometimes deeply moving. But it’s also alienating, again, by design, constantly turning the camera on the viewer, sometimes with Marilyn heading right at him. It’s going to be a tough sell, especially for a movie that’s so non-linear and elliptical. (The two semi-biopics I remembered were Michael Mann’s Ali and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, both challenging meditations on the brutal cost of self-realization). But somewhere at the core of the film, for all the ghastly horrors it contains, there is a deeply relatable idea. Norma Jeane’s search for a nonexistent father, and the various surrogates she finds along the way, winds and winds and winds (and winds and winds) until it becomes something much more cosmic about the search for belonging in the labyrinthine heartbreak of this world. . For those of us who connect with that idea, the film will do more than hurt us, it will destroy us.

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