Thesp Silvia Munt's lucid, clever helming debut "Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova: Gala" reps a valuable attempt to rescue a mystery woman -- "Gala," the muse of poet Paul Elouard and painter Salvador Dali -- from the margins of history. Fest sidebars look likely.

The latest in a series of high quality docus to emerge from Spain in the past couple of years, thesp Silvia Munt’s lucid, clever helming debut “Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova: Gala” reps a valuable attempt to rescue a mystery woman — “Gala,” the muse of poet Paul Elouard and painter Salvador Dali — from the margins of history. Sweeping through several countries, many interviewees and a barrel full of interesting ideas on love and art, film manages to partially penetrate the subject’s legendary Central Euro inscrutability without damaging her abiding myth. Fest sidebars look likely.

Munt and her crew trawl chronologically through Gala’s international life, starting in 1894 in Kazan, Russia, where she learned, in the words of researcher Tatiana Pigariova, the soulfulness and sense of destiny that were to mark her for life. From there, she went to a sanatorium in Moscow where she met and fell in love with Elouard.

She followed Elouard to Paris, becoming a muse to the Surrealist movement. She also had a daughter, Cecile, by Elouard, but abandoned her: Cecile refused to be interviewed for the film.

In Paris, Gala met Dali. Gala and Dali would spend much of the ’40s together in the U.S., and the rest of their lives in Catalonia. Gala died in 1982.

Some of the interviewees had personal experiences with Gala, including two younger American lovers she took in later life — Jeff Fenholt and William Rothlein — and chanteuse Amanda Lear was briefly Dali’s lover. Others are biographers, art experts, and even a tarot reader. The tone of the testimonies is generally more admiring than affectionate, since only rarely is pic’s subject, a strange combination of ambition and submissiveness, shown to have revealed anything resembling charm.

Reflection shuttles between the abstract and philosophical, the down-to-earth and anecdotal, the latter provided by Paquita Buetas, the Dalis’ cook in Cadaques, and Jimmy Rapacioli, a waiter at Gala’s favorite New York restaurant.Munt’s strategy of filming the crew’s ad hoc dinner table chats works surprisingly well, transmitting their enthusiasm to get behind the Gala myth. The little documentary footage which exists of Gala and Dali together is cleverly left until the end. They come across as a slightly cantankerous, aging couple, and anything but surreal.

Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova: Gala

Spain

Production

A Nirvana Films release of an Ovideo TV production, with participation of TVE, Canal Plus, TVC. (International sales: Nirvana, Madrid.) Executive producer, Quique Camin. Directed, written by Silvia Munt.

Crew

Camera (color), Mario Montero, David Omedes; editor, Nuria Esquerra; music, Nestor Munt; sound (Dolby Digital), Jordi Bonet. Reviewed at Yelmo Cineplex Ideal, Madrid, July 13, 2003. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Tatiana Pigariova, Jeff Fenholt, William Rothlein, Amanda Lear, Paquita Buetas, Jimmy Rapacioli. (French, English, Spanish, Catalan, Russian dialogue)

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