Dir: Simon Staho
My first experience with Danish filmmaker Simon Staho was not good. I said that his film Warriors of Love (made after this one) 'consists of 93 of the most pretentious, ponderous, minutes of cinema I’ve ever sat through.' However, that wasn't enough to put me off seeing what I heard was a barnstorming performance from Noomi Rapace, who rose to international fame last year as Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy.
Daisy Diamond is as uncompromisingly bleak a film as I have ever seen. From its bare visual style, to its confrontational depictions of sex and nudity, to its parade of utterly unsympathetic characters, the film offers absolutely no respite from the emotional brutality that defines it. It centres on Anna (Rapace), a young woman in her early 20's who is trying to be an actress, but finds all her auditions disrupted by her constantly crying four month old daughter Daisy. With no support, and seemingly no parenting skills, Anna becomes desperate as her daughter is always noisily preventing her from working. One day she takes drastic action.
Though other characters drift in and out, usually as directors who are auditioning Anna, or using her in some other more direct way, Daisy Diamond is, to all intents and purposes, a one woman show for Noomi Rapace. For much of the running time all we see is her talking to her four month old daughter (tellingly the few loving things she says are often revealed to be audition passages, or quotes from movies). Staho has many characters tell Anna how interesting her face is, and his visual style reflects that, with many scenes played almost exclusively on a close up shot of Rapace' face, particularly in the film's most disturbing moments.
This kind of material, and this kind of scrutiny, demands a lot from an actor, and Rapace more than delivers. She throws herself, body and soul, into the part. She was hospitalised when shooting ended, suffering from internal bleeding, apparently brought on by the stress. Rapace has to make 180 degree emotional turns in an instant, and you believe every single one. Even when you become used to Staho's device of using audition dialogue but suggesting that it's coming from Anna herself, you believe every last word she says (this does create one small issue in the film; why doesn't Anna get every role she auditions for?) Rapace is especially outstanding in her scenes with the baby. After a while, you are able to differentiate between when Anna is rehearsing and when she's expressing genuine feeling, and the detachment with which she regards, speaks to, even holds, Daisy is chilling. This is a naked performance in every sense of the word, Rapace is explicitly stripped down physically, but much more impactful is the gradual stripping away of any emotional register (seen best in the cold, matter of fact way she relates her life story for the pimp she ends up working for).
Noomi Rapace' performance here may be the best I've seen in five years or more. I wouldn't hesitate to rank it with the likes of Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia or Sissy Spacek in Badlands among the best performances I've seen by an actress. It absolutely demands to be seen.
The film as a whole doesn't quite meet that standard, largely because Staho's techniques start calling attention to themselves midway through, and by the end it does feel like he is gratuitously piling on the tragedy (though it's not so oversold here, there is a plot turn that reminded me of Precious) and almost rubbing our faces in the degradation on display. Some people will hate this film, and I can see why. It may lack the explicit violence, but for me it has a similar impact to Irreversible; a 93 minute gut punch that resonates long after the credits. It may be flawed as a film, but I can't imagine you not thinking about, not remembering, Daisy Diamond, and that, for me, would be enough to recommend it, even without its astounding central performance. It is nothing short of criminal that this film isn't available in the UK.