Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna
Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino
Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
Editor: Claire Simpson
On my way to watch Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, I helped myself with a primer on the Gucci family history by reading an article on the internet. The sensational story aside, a quote by the film’s co-screenwriter Roberto Bentivegna gave an early insight into the movie even before it had began. Bentivegna said, “I always wanted with this to feel like the audience was watching a movie.” Minutes later, I was watching Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons and Jared Leto play members of the Gucci family. Sometime into the film, Salma Hayek pops up as an Italian psychic; only Al Pacino, who also plays a Gucci, is at least of Italian descent.
These characters, all based on real people, talk among themselves in Italian accented English although in real life they must have spoken in Italian. But the fact that they weren’t trying very hard to hide it made it easier to accept the movie for what it is: a movie. Whether I like it or not, Bentivegna’s words had already coloured my viewing, but it kept making sense as House of Gucci continued to play up its movie-ness – in its all-star cast, in the pitch of their performances, in its celebration of glamour, in certain scenes its evocation of dreamy artificiality of studio-era Hollywood, and in Leto’s almost unrecognisable transformation with the magic of makeup.
Patrizia and Maurizio’s meet-cute has the effervescence of a perfect screen romance. They are the kind of couple that makes the phrase ‘opposites attract’ ring true: she’s a socialite, he’s a nerd; she’s flashy, he’s deadpan; and the biggest differentiator – she’s a nobody, he’s a Gucci. When Rodolfo, who suspects Patrizia is a gold-digger, shows his son the door, he lands up outside Patrizia’s modest home where she lives with her parents asking her father for a job in his truck transportation business. This is a true romance worthy of the movies. But anyone with a basic knowledge of the Gucci story knows how it ends and it’s a good juncture to wonder how the hell, from here, did one end up getting the other killed?
With these two at the centre, Patrizia and Maurizio’s relationship is not just its own story, it also mirrors the changing destinies of the Gucci empire and how it fell out of family hands. In the beginning, Rodolfo (Irons) and Aldo (Pacino), brothers and Italian men of a certain vintage, share equal halves of the company, but the future seems uncertain: Aldo’s son Paolo’s (Leto) incompetence – and the ridicule he is subjected to – is comparable to that of Fredo from The Godfather, Rodolfo’s son Maurizio isn’t even interested in his family business; to add to the Guccis’ woes, he disowns him. While Rodolfo (Irons is aristocratic, melancholy) broods in his pleasure palace, projecting black and white films in which he can see his dead wife flicker to life again – they were both actors and met on the set of a movie – Aldo plays peacemaker, welcomes his nephew and his wife into the family and handholds them into the inner workings of the business (Pacino plays boisterous in a Pacino way, emitting sparks when you least expect him to). The film’s timeline roughly spans from the early seventies to the mid nineties, and there is a lot that happens in between: power grabs, backstabbing, a full-fledged family feud, leaking evidence against the other.
In these portions House of Gucci starts resembling a tragedy. When Hayek’s Pina, a psychic, is telling Patrizia that she is about to win a fortune and become the Queen, she could be one of the witches from Macbeth. Patricia is both Lady and Macbeth in that she convinces Maurizio to betray his family members, and this is more her story than it is his. (Or maybe its Gaga – wearing her vulnerability and dresses with equal ease – who makes it seem that way, despite Driver’s sharply tuned performance). Is Patrizia in love with Maurizio, or as Rodolfo suspected, in love with his surname? Scott doesn’t show what he can’t possibly know and besides, both can be true at the same time.