Australian Arts

Jeremy Irons in House of Gucci

22 January 2022

9:00 AM

22 January 2022

9:00 AM

Any attempt to fictionalise the Gucci story runs into the same difficulties as Ridley Scott’s handsome and absorbing film, House of Gucci, because there are so many improbabilities built into this story of ruthlessness and betrayal that they cry out to be eliminated even though they are true. Patrizia (Lady Gaga), the girl from nowhere, marries Maurizio (Adam Driver) and his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) thinks she’s a gold digger. The couple set about cannibalising the other stakeholders in the empire, most notably the sharp and spiv-like Aldo (Al Pacino) and his dim-witted son Paolo (Jared Leto). At some point Maurizio falls out of love with Patrizia and vendetta becomes her middle name. She’s even aided in this black endeavour by a clairvoyant, Pina (Salma Hayek).

It’s a strange mishmash of events colliding without any driving coherence. Ridley Scott takes the Gucci story with its cavalcade of under-determined mysteries and turns them into a kind of spectacular exhibition of quasi-random violence and malignity performed by people we’re brought up close to behaviourally but with whom we have no intimacy.

Adam Driver and Lady Gaga apparently look a lot like Maurizio and Patrizia which adds to the sense of a documentary mountain of imaginative incoherence in this film which is actually performed by English speaking actors in Italian English — a feat weirder than Christoph Waltz as a Tarantino Nazi and reminisicent of the Asian English, decades ago, of Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.

The upshot is a film which is visually ravishing and consistently interesting but where the grand supporting cast have a bravura brilliance, a sweep and a dash that the central couple lack.

Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons don’t really look like brothers: Pacino looks as if he’s escaped, raffishly and humorously, from one of his lesser gangster movies (no Corleone majesty here) whereas Irons looks as if he’s auditioning to play the Prince in a very grand TV version of The Leopard. It doesn’t matter because they both act like gods and so in his way does an all but unrecognizable Jared Leto, ugly and clownish as the dim-witted nephew.

It’s fascinating to see Ridley Scott, the wizard of Blade Runner and Gladiator, make a film which doesn’t actually work but which has such glitter and sparkle along the way. Even if Lady Gaga and Adam Driver are too earnestly invested in their enigmatic talkfests and treacheries, the sight of him riding his bicycle to Lugano or perdition, looking like a rich goose, is a thing of wonder and she certainly has an impassioned consistency while Milan in the 80s becomes the backdrop that steals the show.

It is rendered with a breathtaking, understated majesty so that you give complete assent to this vision of a time and a place even as the central cast are attempting to conjure human credibility on too little dramatic evidence.

But the fashion and the style is to die for and seems to exhibit absolute accuracy. When Tom Ford takes over haute couture at Gucci — which is Maurizio’s abiding obsession — he seeks to outglamourise and be weirder than Karl Lagerfeld. The result is that Ridley Scott’s recreation has a breathtaking authority and a consummate visual power.

House of Gucci has so much splendour in its visual recapitulation of a constellation of worlds and so much histrionic grandeur in its supporting cast that the skeletal nature of its storyline, its gaps and troughs matter less than they might, because this almost bewildering film has its own semi-ruined power as a documentary pageant and a monument to the glories that pass like the memory of the world.

Love Me, the Australian soap streaming on Binge could not be more different. It’s said to derive from a Scandi original though this is in no way discernible. It’s directed by Emma Freeman, who made that admirable mini-series The Newsreader, and the scriptwriters include Alison Bell and Leon Ford.

What’s remarkable about Love Me, however, is that it has perfect pitch. Hugo Weaving has just lost his wife, Sarah Peirse (though she appears every so often to comment on his predicament). His thirties daughter, Bojana Novakovic, crisp and cool, blonde and dry to the point of fragility, would like to have a child. His son, Willam Lodder, mid-twenties, refuses to go walkabout with his sumptuous musician girlfriend Shalom Brune-Franklin. So what happens? Weaving goes on the holiday he booked for himself and his dead wife and meets Heather Mitchell. Too cool for school daughter (who’s an anaesthetist) meets a male model, Bob Morley, her own age, who radiates starry charm as well as affection but has a teenage son. Young law clerk son is taken with a new girl but then the old girlfriend looms again with a predicament.

Love Me might have been the tritest thing around but it is the opposite. It is beautifully observed, tender without being cloying, traditional without being corny and predictable. The Melbourne it conjures up as a casual backdrop — Princes Bridge, the Botanical Gardens — is evoked without self-consciousness. This evocation of a middle class family in the vicinity of bereavement, the stirrings of new love, the pain and the responsibility of having children, is done with a depth and a speed, a mastery of convention which is not itself conventional, that really does, however absurd it sounds, have something Mozartian about it: that uncanny sense of a slight, almost throwaway thing that is perfectly achieved.

This country is at a point with the plague, which we had imagined was receding, where Omicron could make us or mar us terribly. At a time when the theatres are open but edgy, the galleries are showing their old masters and their new work and a totalitarian Daniel Andrews-style lockdown is a political impossibility, its semblance is nonetheless reasserting itself. If the world is once more being urged to stay home to stay safe it would be nice if there were thirty episodes of Love Me rather than just six to keep us going. It is a reminder, or intimation, that we can make television that captures what the game of life can be like with the authentic ring of something like art.

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