Savage Grace: The Baekelands’ breakdown
by Vitor Pinto
A celebrated name in American contemporary video art, Tom Kalin is back behind the camera with Savage Grace, his first foray into directing since 1992's Swoon. Co-produced between Spain, US and France, the film was shown last night to the audience of Cannes' Directors' Fortnight.
Based on the real life of Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore) – who entered high society thanks to her marriage to the heir of the Baekeland family – Savage Grace proposes a sharp look on this disastrous marriage and on Barbara's following breakdown. Stuck in depression, she will dangerously transfer all her frustrated affections and desires to her homosexual son, Tony. The plot follows a rise-and-fall structure while the role of Barbara was risky one for Moore, who proves once again to be particularly gifted at portraying camp 1950-60s housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Co-written by Kalin and Howard Rodman, the script follows the family’s travels in the US, France, Spain and, finally, London, capturing in each the posh atmospheres through which they wandered and the artists they met. However, if the recreation of places and costumes –by decorator Victor Molero and costume designer Gabriela Salaverri respectively – is impeccable, the goal was never to offer a luxurious portrait of a time, but rather use those decades and that particular artistic-bourgeois milieu as a decadent background to the character's ambiguously tense relations.
Supported by a Spanish technical crew, Kalim opted for a sober mise-en-scène and paid close attention "not to make spectacular and pathetic the scenes that might potentially become such". Consequently, the decision not to move the camera and "let people watch a particularly intense drama towards the end of the film" comes from his desire to "show the strength of violence through immobility and simplicity," concluded Kalim in the post-screening Q&A.
Moore's frantic performance is efficiently backed by British actors Stephen Dillane (The Hours) and Eddie Redmayne (soon in The Other Boleyn Girl [+see also:
film profile]), but the film also leaves room for Spanish talents such as Elena Anaya (Miguel and William), Shooting Star 2005 Unax Ugalde (Alatriste [+see also:
film profile]) and Belén Rueda, who also stars in International Critics' Week entry El Orfanato [+see also:
film profile] by Juan Pablo Bayona.
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