“Nightmare Alley”: Guillermo del Toro returns to the cinema with a dark and disturbing new film

This film noir that captures “the angst of our time” is Guillermo del Toro’s first feature film since winning the Oscars for “The Shape of Water”.

Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro’s new film in theaters on Wednesday, is set in the dark and murky world of 1940s monster fairs: a fable about pretense, lies and boundless greed, according to the Mexican director.

Film noir is Guillermo del Toro’s first feature film since winning the Oscars for The Shape of Water. It stars Bradley Cooper as a traveling “medium”, who sets up a scam to extort their fortunes from wealthy clients.

For the needs of the film, the director had a life-size replica of the great American fairgrounds of the time built, with a circus tent and pavilions. In particular, there are “geek shows” in which unfortunate people were pushed to perform acts as repugnant as they were degrading, such as decapitating a chicken with their teeth, in exchange for a little alcohol or drugs.

“It’s an indictment of a certain form of ambition, a certain form of capitalism or exploitation of others”, summarizes the actor Willem Dafoe, who plays the huckster responsible for attracting the barge , Clem Hoately. “It was a wonderful world, if a little bit dark,” he said at a press conference.

A film capturing “the anguish of our time”

The story of the film is taken from a novel by William Lindsay Gresham, already adapted to the cinema in 1947. We follow Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joining the troupe of the fair and quickly becoming a master in the art of mentalism.

But he grows tired of tricking ordinary customers using the coded messages exchanged with his assistant Molly (Rooney Mara). Stan meets a psychiatrist, femme fatale played by Cate Blanchett, with whom he tricks millionaires wishing to converse in the afterlife with dead loves.

“There is an emptiness in him, and a need to have more, more and always more”, explains Guillermo del Toro.

With The Shape of Water (Oscar for best feature film and best director in 2018), the Mexican filmmaker spun a metaphor on racism and the rejection of those who are different through an impossible love story set in a military laboratory during the Cold War. Nightmare Alley Although it takes place in the 1940s, for him it is above all a film capturing “the anguish of our time”.

“We didn’t want to make a film about this period, but about the present,” he says. “This moment where we are and where we have to make the difference between true story, false story and reality, it is so important”, insists the director.

Weighty contender for the Oscars

The film, a strong candidate for the next Oscars, was noted for the performances of Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, as well as for its extravagant sets.

“We built the entire fairground. And when we were halfway there, the Covid hit. When we came back, we found that half of the tents had been blown by the wind,” he said. recalls production designer Tamara Deverell.

Willem Dafoe, who was attracted as a child by the “darkly romantic” world of fairgrounds, says he was inspired for his performance by all these very detailed and realistic sets.

The actor explains that he was seduced by del Toro’s project, which often puts “creatures, marginalized people, monsters and other people outside our society” at the heart of his films. “He humanizes these people and provokes our understanding and compassion in all of his films,” Dafoe says.

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“Nightmare Alley”: Guillermo del Toro returns to the cinema with a dark and disturbing new film