Salvador Dalí: In Search of Immortality
Director David Pujol’s exhaustive look at the life and work of the Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí is a compelling investigation. The documentary starts in 1929, the year Dalí officially joined the Surrealist group and collaborated with filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the landmark short film It was also the year he met his future wife Gala, who would prove to be his lifelong muse. Much of the film’s strength is in its focus on their relationship.
Gala, a Russian beauty born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, served as the inspiration for many an artist, including her previous husband, the Surrealist French poet Paul Éluard. She married Dalí in 1934 and often acted as his agent. She was also the model for many of his paintings. Theirs was a unique relationship in that Gala, encouraged by Dalí’s voyeuristic tendency, engaged in numerous extramarital affairs throughout their relationship.
Salvador Dalí: In Search of Immortality spans 60 years in the artist’s career. Although he was active at various points during his life in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, and the United States, he would return to Spain on a regular basis, working primarily from his villa in Port Lligat in the coastal region of Catalonia. In the early 1960s, he returned to his hometown of Figueres and began to build a theater and museum which, today, houses the single largest collection of his work. Always a flamboyant character with a penchant for drawing attention to himself with his absurd theatrics and trademark curled mustache, Dalí, as the film shows him, was not just in search of immortality. He was intent on shaping his own legacy in order to ensure its eventuality.
The theater and museum project spanned more than a decade. It was a period of time that overlapped with the artist’s estrangement from Gala, during which he spiraled into a depression. She was spending weeks at a time in the small town of Púbol, Spain, where Dalí had built a castle for her, a monument of his love and devotion, which he agreed not to visit without her express permission. Throughout their marriage, Gala avoided making public statements or justifying her many affairs, preferring, as is stated in the film, to let history judge her, for good or for ill. But like her husband, she wanted to be remembered as a legend. In their shared desire for leaving behind a storied legacy, they were made for each other.
After her death in 1982, Dalí’s own life was marked by periods of declining health. With his longtime muse now gone forever, he lost his own will to live. These events are deftly and tenderly covered. Pujol avoids making his documentary a critique of the artist, but also doesn’t lionize him. At the same time, the filmmaker makes us cognizant of the fact that Dalí, an egocentric but undeniably brilliant artist, often lionized himself.
Enlivened by the presentation of many of the painter’s masterpieces as well as his lesser-known works, previously unpublished photographs, and rare archival footage of the artist at work, the film reaches beyond a portrayal of Dalí as the larger-than-life figure he was. It presents him, ultimately, as simply a man. For that, he remains as fallible as any mortal, despite the everlasting glory he desired and undoubtedly achieved. Dalí: In Search of Immortality is both a testament to the artist’s genius and a tribute to a great love. — Michael Abatemarco