The prospect of a short film from an established filmmaker is not a totally enticing one, where often it can be a whole load of wasted time and creative power. Luca Guadagnino’s latest release is a short that premiered on MUBI, with enough attraction in its cast including Julianne Moore and Kyle MacLachlan to give it a go.
Naturally, because of the format, there is no true narrative to follow, and instead it is a series of dreamlike scenarios (some very literal) that blend across different time periods. Francesca Moretti (Julianne Moore) is at the centre as a divorcee with a blind artist mother, as the film switches between Francesca’s home in New York City, to her mother’s home in Italy. She is trying to write a memoir, stuck on an account of a passionate love affair, whilst being struck by profound feelings towards art. That is where Guadagnino leans on for most of the forty-minute run time – the astounding effect a painting can have on a person, but unfortunately the work inside this world is far more accomplished and meaningful than the film itself. There are attempts to touch on interesting ideas of authorship when it comes to depicting memories, and the troubles that come with family ties that are based upon creative output – even when Francesca is middle-aged and her mother is very old, she is still yearning for a loving bond that surpasses both their desires to make something worthwhile. It is an affection that has always been absent from their relationship, that will not be discovered now that the mother is in her final years, but still continuing to focus solely on reaching a magnum opus. This motif works to an extent, but gets watered down by pretentious imagery, and soft-spoken dialogue that limits the ability for anyone watching to hold onto anything.
A bilingual, multi-national element of the film again proposes possible intrigue, with Moore speaking Italian and German throughout, which helps to create a sense of intense crossover of time and space by not locking the film down to one set location or mood. There is a level of confusion that comes with this too, her seemingly German mother poses a question of origins that is left unanswered by the vagueness of Guadagnino’s choices. Of course, this would be effective in a film that offered more to say, or show, and the film fails to truly present anything concrete on those fronts. Some of the cinematography genuinely appears as B-roll or coverage photography from Guadagnino’s last film Suspiria (2018), as a flock of contemporary dancers end the film to keep that feeling of repetition throughout the film. The theme of female sexual awakening continues to dominate Guadagnino’s oeuvre, and say what you will about male authorship taking stances on the female anatomy, at least he is being persistent. Thankfully, a good binding tool and an entrancing one, is a similar soundtrack to Suspiria, maybe even the same, that does allow for some satisfaction in simply watching these peculiar, nonsensical scenes unfold.
Although it would be silly to call The Staggering Girl staggeringly boring, it is hard not to. A world of film artistes without ties to a plot is certainly a welcome one, however they need a tighter vindication in their message, and at least some notion that they have not squandered precious money and time that could have been directed towards a cinematic feature.