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PRISCILLA - review

Updated: 6 days ago

Source: Imdb

Priscilla Presley was only 14 years old when she was welcomed into Elvis Presley's inner circle and soon became the primary object of his affection and, eventually, his wife. As is often the case, the true story was far more complex than teenage imaginations allow, a fact that director Sofia Coppola seeks to illustrate in Her Priscilla, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.                       

Based on Priscilla Presley's memoir and made with her advice, Priscilla presents Coppola with a difficult task: honoring the memories of a woman and at the same time shedding light in a lucid and frank way on rather alarming circumstances. It is a challenge that the director faces with calibrated perspicacity; in fact, Priscilla is neither sensationalized nor sugarcoated. It is a sensitive, if light-hearted, look at a young woman who awakens from a dream and faces life with her eyes open.

Priscilla is played by Cailee Spaeny, who is 25 but believably plays a high school teenager. Suffocated by loneliness in West Germany, where her army officer father is stationed, she experiences far from the welcoming symbols of mid-century American adolescence. But next to her is Elvis who, enlisted as a soldier, lives in a house not far from the military base. The meeting between Priscilla and Elvis finds a detailed description in Priscilla, who in addition to the young girl's innocent ardor also registers a creeping sense of predation. (Presley, 24, had a friend bring him Priscilla.).   

Elvis becomes fond of Priscilla by showing his sensitive side, telling her of his homesickness and his pain for his missing mother. Is this an act of solicitation? Priscilla does not comment on this, preferring instead to calmly show the events as they happened (or a version of them) and leaving the audience free to make their own assessments. As Elvis, Jacob Elordi – best known as the troubled toxic guy in HBO's Euphoria – carefully calibrates Elvis' charm, drug-addled commanding presence, demanding demands and frightening outbursts of rage. (And his misogyny too.) It is a more enlightening vision of man than that seen in Elvis, he works more interested in iconographic elements than in interiority.

Priscilla is not a biopic about an artist and therefore we almost never see Elvis on stage. The film stays close to young Priscilla, portraying her isolation as she takes her first steps into her new life as a woman (first, teenager) kept at Graceland, eagerly waiting for Elvis to return from a tour or film shoot and wrap her up once again in the warmth of his attentions. Perhaps this is an eloquent picture of the lives of too many women in that, as in other eras. She went from father to husband, forever negotiating her place in the kingdom of men.    Spaeny outlines with a firm hand Priscilla's ongoing struggle for independence, her tormented (because she still believes in it) disillusionment with true love. She and Coppola choose stillness and tranquility rather than pomp, composing a portrait with delicate tones. Coppola's aesthetic is immaculate but not affected, there are no sensational concessions to the curious customs of the time.

Priscilla is a delicate film, but it is neither stagnant nor cold. Judicious musical choices poignantly punctuate Priscilla's moments of pain and loss, whose girlhood quickly fades as the truth of things begins to reveal themselves. This is perhaps Coppola's simplest film, sober and controlled. But it is nevertheless one of his most representative and convincing creations, another of his studies of young women seeking stability as they move through the world. Priscilla is not an emotional epic, nor a furious correction of facts. Instead, it is a convincing and human sketch of a young woman involved in something big that marked an era and those to come.

Written by Guendalina Porta


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