Our review of Nightmare Alley, by Guillermo del Toro: A superb nightmare

CRITICAL – With Cate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper, the Mexican director tries his hand at film noir. With elegance and talent.

Nightmare Alley did not move crowds in the United States. Except Spiderman and his youthful acrobatics, the films struggled to bring the public back in droves to the theatres. A film noir, even with stars, even with the signature of a prestigious author, seems doomed to failure at the present time.

Guillermo del Toro, on the strength of his triumph with The Shape of Water (golden lion at Venice in 2017), fulfills an old dream by bringing to the screen the work of William Lindsay Gresham, a writer who committed suicide in 1962 and drowned everything in alcohol (Marxism, psychoanalysis, Tarot, Christianity, Buddhism) – Gallimard had the good idea to republish this novel published under the title The Charlatan and already adapted by Edmund Goulding with Tyrone Power in 1947.

Eye-catching elegance

A charlatan, Stan Carlisle becomes one while working in a carnival whose main attraction is a beast that decapitates chickens with its teeth. In fact monster, a boozer, a geek (derived from “geck”, an idiot) locked in a cage by an always worrying Willem Dafoe.

SEE ALSO – “Nightmare Alley”, the trailer

“Nightmare Alley”, the trailer – Watch on Figaro Live

Guillermo del Toro is at home among this marginalized people (dwarf, contortionist, bearded woman and other freaks) but does not force the line, preferring dark realism to grotesque magic. The ambitious and attractive Carlisle (Bradley Cooper, decidedly surprising since his beginnings in the pochade very bad trip) takes the innocent Molly (Rooney Mara) to the big city. She assists him in a mentalist number but quickly finds herself neglected. Carlisle teams up with psychiatrist Lilith (Cate Blanchett) to fool his wealthy bereaved patients.

The Mexican filmmaker walks through this nightmarish alley with trompe-l’oeil elegance. Alley or rather cruel loop which closes on Carlisle, antihero of a fable on credulity and greed. Carlisle’s trajectory is also a metaphor for cinema, originally a fairground art before becoming indoor entertainment. Streaming platforms are still a distant nightmare for storytellers and shapers like Guillermo del Toro.


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