This year’s Cannes programme is shaping up to be more tantalising than ever. Alongside Top Gun: Maverick, word has leaked about Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic starring Austin Butler, and Three Thousand Years of Longing, a fantasy romance from Mad Max director George Miller. Yet, these offerings pale next to what might be 2022’s most scandalous release – though whether it’ll even make it to Cannes currently hangs in the balance.

The film is Blonde, its director is Andrew Dominik, and its star is recent Bond girl Ana de Armas.

It’s a Marilyn Monroe biopic, based on a 700-page book by Joyce Carol Oates of the same name, which offered a semi-fictionalised account of the actress’s life, and entertained the possibility that she was assassinated. Dominik himself classes his adaptation as an ‘‘emotional nightmare fairy-tale type movie’’, which sounds right up Cannes’ boulevard.

Dominik said at Berlin recently that he was hoping to unveil Blonde at the festival. But Blonde is a Netflix production, and the streaming platform and the French festival still aren’t on friendly terms over the country’s theatrical exclusivity laws: in short, if a film is released in cinemas, it can’t be made available online for another 15 months. So Venice in September might well be where Blonde ends up: they’re Dominik fans too, having premiered the Australian filmmaker’s 2016 documentary One More Time with Feeling and, in 2007, his epic western tragedy The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

You’d imagine either festival would be glad to have it. Reason one is de Armas, the 33-year-old Cuban actress whose career is exploding right now. While she made quite an impression in Knives Out, Blade Runner 2049, her performance in No Time to Die, as the high-kicking, cocktail-attired CIA agent, Paloma, she almost steals the film despite only being in it for about 10 minutes.

Both Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain were attached to Blonde at points during its lengthy nine-year incubation period. But once the budget had been scraped together in 2019, Chastain had long left the project, so another round of casting took place.

It didn’t take long. ‘‘I only had to audition for Marilyn once and Andrew said ‘It’s you’,’’ de Armas told Vanity Fair the following year. ‘‘But I had to audition for everyone else. The producers. The money people. I always have people I needed to convince. But I knew I could do it.’’ Her race, she suggested, may have been a factor. ‘‘Playing Marilyn was ground-breaking. A Cuban playing Marilyn Monroe. I wanted it so badly. You see that famous photo of her and she is smiling in the moment, but that’s just a slice of what she was really going through at the time.’’ Though Blonde apparently has little dialogue – Dominik has described it as ‘‘an avalanche of images and events’’ – de Armas trained for nine months with a dialect coach to perfect Monroe’s breathy vocal style. (Some of her dialogue was re-recorded during the edit to smooth over her strong natural accent.)

And, in order to conceal her natural dark hair, she also wore a bald cap on set underneath her various gold and platinum wigs. Her daily hair and make-up regime took three and a half hours, though for Dominik, it sounds justified: talking recently to Screen International, he described de Armas’s work as ‘‘amazing’’, adding: ‘‘The one thing nobody’s going to complain about is Ana’s performance.’’

So what might they? Dominik has been combative about the film’s mature, ‘‘demanding’’ nature, telling Screen: ‘‘It’s controversial..,’’ Dominik has said. ‘‘It’s a demanding movie – it is what it is, it says what it says. And if the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.’’

Oates, who is among a small number of interested parties to have seen the finished cut, described it as ‘‘startling, brilliant, very disturbing’’, and characterised its tone as ‘‘hard to classify, not surreal but not totally realistic, not ‘horror’ but suffused with the dread of horror.’’

Ana de Armas’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the yet-to-be-released biopic Blonde is slated to be very real
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Whatever is in there prompted Netflix to approach Jennifer Lame, the editor of Tenet, last summer and charge her (in Dominik’s words) with ‘‘curb[ing] the excesses of the movie’’. The director says he considers the tightened final cut an improvement, and praised Netflix for their support.

“They are the only people that would pay for Blonde,’’ he said. ‘‘It would not exist without them.’’ All parties seem to be working on the assumption that even the finished film will be classified NC-17 in the United States – which, unlike a UK 18, can prove commercially ruinous, since many cinemas refuse to play the handful of films that earn them.

But Dominik suspects the rating owes as much to Blonde's lack of regard for certain ‘‘American sacred cows’’: the supporting cast includes Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller and Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio, two of her husbands – and, as John F Kennedy, the Danish actor Caspar Phillipson (who also played the President opposite Natalie Portman in Jackie).

Oh, and it’s very #MeToo, too. Dominik has said the film wouldn't have been made before the industry’s ongoing reckoning with sexual abuse, ‘‘because nobody was interested in that... or what it’s like to go through the Hollywood meat-grinder.’’

Netflix has also yet to announce when it will arrive on its platform.

The Daily Telegraph

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