Also reviewed this week: Encanto and To The Moon
House Of Gucci (15A, 155mins)
If the Borgias had opened a fashion house, it might have turned out like Gucci.
Founded in Florence in 1921 by Guccio Gucci, the company initially specialised in suitcases and luggage. By the early 1950s, the family brand had branched out into luxury shoes, belts, wallets and designer handbags, and opened shops in Milan, Rome and New York.
Before his death in 1953, Guccio divided the company’s shares between his three sons, Aldo, Vasco and Rodolfo, but simmering tensions would result in a nasty feud, which erupted in the 1980s.
Central to this was one Patrizia Reggiani, not a Gucci at all, though she was always keen to identify as one. And she, fiercely embodied by Lady Gaga, is the beating heart of Ridley Scott’s outrageous, overripe and thoroughly enjoyable film.
Patrizia is an attractive and sharply dressed woman about town in 1970s Milan when she meets a shy young man at a party. Maurizio (Adam Driver) is soft-spoken, well-mannered, and Patrizia is impressed, especially when she hears his second name.
The only child of Rodolfo Gucci, Maurizio has steered clear of the family business and is more interested in studying law. But Patrizia is quite the motivator: she mans the phones at her dad’s trucking company, but dreams of bigger things and encourages Maurizio to get more involved in the Gucci empire.
His father, Rodolfo (a wonderfully patrician Jeremy Irons) is horrified by the brassy Patrizia and threatens to cut Maurizio off without a penny if he marries her. He will, of course, go right ahead, but Patrizia then sees a way to bid for power within the company by forging an alliance with Maurizio’s Uncle Aldo.
Affable, worldly and a bit of a chancer, Aldo (Al Pacino) takes a shine to Patrizia, and soon she and Maurizio are living the high life in Manhattan. Patrizia’s ambition has now unleashed Maurizio’s own, but a scramble for shares and influence between him and Aldo’s excitable son Paolo (Jared Leto) will drag all the Guccis into a catastrophic power struggle. Patrizia, meanwhile, will find herself abruptly sidelined when Maurizio abandons her for another woman.
Most of you will know that Maurizio Gucci was shot dead on the steps of his Milan office in 1995: Ridley Scott’s film is book-ended by intimations of that event. Truth is stranger than fiction, they say, and in House Of Gucci, we find out how Patrizia formed a bizarre friendship with a TV fortune teller called Pina Auriemma (Salma Hayek), whose underworld connections would facilitate the crime.
There are big performances all over the place here, none bigger than that of Jared Leto, buried under a sea of latex and playing Paolo as a spoilt, deluded child. Which perhaps he was, but Leto is a showy ham from way back and his shrieking portrayal of Paolo is hard to watch.
Not much else is, however, because from start to finish, House Of Gucci is a hoot. The tone Scott seems to be going for is opera buffa, and it’s pretty hard to take this entitled bunch of snobs in any way seriously. Indeed, at first, it’s Patrizia who’s the everyman, the only character on display we can identify with. But one quickly realises she’s not one of nature’s democrats and her appetite for luxury will be her undoing.
Adam Driver is an actor of real range and his Maurizio is a curious creature, watchful and cautious, but attracted to shiny objects, like fast cars and dangerous women. Lady Gaga’s Patrizia is a fascinating creation, a wilful mix of innocence, libido and greed, simultaneously fearless and vulnerable.
She, and the entire cast, take the risky decision to speak English in Italian accents, and while Leto sounds like Chico Mark, Gaga pulls it off magnificently, and is at all times the compelling engine of this film.
House Of Gucci has a kind of swagger, and comes across like a high fashion version of The Godfather, the mood helped by a playful and knowing turn from Pacino, whose Aldo might be dodgy, but has a heart. When Paolo screws up for the hundredth time, Aldo hugs him and says “you’re an idiot, but you’re my idiot”.
Which is kind of how I feel about this film.
Rating: Four stars
Encanto (PG, 109mins)
Designed by committee, engineered to cause minimum offence, Encanto does a lot of box-ticking, but lacks the spontaneity and inventiveness of the great Disney animations.
It all starts promisingly enough in the mountains of Columbia, where the Madrigal family live in a splendid house that comes to life to serve their every whim. The children have special gifts — super strength, the power to heal etc — and are overseen by the clucking, formidable matriarch, Abuela.
But poor Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) was born without a gift, and when the magical house begins to crumble, it’s assumed she is to blame. She may not be and embarks on a quest to save her family and the nearby village which depends on them. Mirabel breaks into song now and she’s just about the only likeable member of a family brimming with hubris and entitlement, especially Abuela, who’s quite unpleasant.
The animation is strong and if there was an Academy Award for best animated hair, Encanto would win it. But it’s too busy, its storyline too aimless, to satisfy anyone for long.
Rating: Three stars
To The Moon (PG, 73mins)
First shown during this year’s Dublin Film Festival, Tadhg O’Sullivan’s To The Moon is an enchanting meditation on humanity’s deep bonds with our nearest celestial neighbour.
Vaguely themed to coincide with lunar phases, O’Sullivan’s film is part documentary, part art installation, and combines the writings of everyone from Joyce to Shakespeare with well chosen film clips from across the globe to mesmerising effect.
Debussy’s Clair de Lune makes an appearance of course, as do films by the likes of FW Murnau, Carl Dreyer and Satyajit Ray. O’Sullivan gently investigates all the superstitions that have clung like barnacles to the moon’s shimmering sides, and time and again, the suspicion is raised that one might go mad if one looked too long at it.
This incredibly fluid succession of images poetically charts humanity’s ongoing lunar obsession, a romantic fixation which has even survived the grim discovery that it’s actually a barren agglomeration of rock and dust. Seeing To The Moon is a bit like watching a dream that someone else is having: I highly recommend it.
Rating: Four stars