REVIEW: ‘The Staggering Girl’ (2020) Flaunts A Stunning Fashion-Consciousness

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“In this intersection of fashion and film, classic and timeless style is abound”

Boasting a stunning cast who adorne meticulously crafted garments, The Staggering Girl is director Luca Guadagnino’s venture into fashion collaboration. The pairing of the two Italians – Guadagnino and Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli – is a stylistic daydream. Guadagnino’s intimate camera and Piccioli’s elegant textiles fuse in this indulgently composed narrative of interiority.

The thirty-seven minute short, that Guadagnino insists is not a Valentino commercial, stars Julianne Moore as Francessca who is attempting to write a memoir. Struggling over every word, the pen in hand barely moving, Francessca’s progress is repeatedly interrupted by the mystifying presence of Kiki Layne’s nameless character, who lures Francesca away from her notepad and into the confusion of her memories.

An exploration of the contradictory facets of memory haunts The Staggering Girl. Disturbed by her own past, Francessca returns to her family home where she is reunited with her mother (Marthe Keller), a partially-blind painter with waist-length straight white hair. Her mother’s paintings reveal a host of childhood events, that Francessca experiences through surreal visions. In entering and exiting these cycles of memory, jumping in and out of flashbacks, and travelling between modern Manhattan and Francessca’s childhood in Rome, Guadagnino’s film is hard to comprehend let alone keep up with. 

Julianne Moore as Francessca sitting in her apartment by the window, trying to write
Still from The Staggering Girl

The non-linear narrative offers flashbacks where a younger reincarnation of Francessca’s mother (Mia Goth) is sporadically present. Also, Kyle MacLachlan appears as the only man in the film, playing every man in the film. Only it is a shame that Goff and MacLachlan’s roles dissolve into the complications of The Staggering Girl’s lucid memory. Francessca gets increasingly lost in the melding of the literal and the obscure. In a deliberately incoherent narrative, Guadagnino extends no guiding hand in this winding story that loses itself in its own wandering thought.

Guadagnino re-acquaints himself with cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and editor, Walter Fasano, in this slow-paced exploration of the chambers of the mind. Guadagnino’s tight-knit collaborators bask in observational, slow-paced shots that the director’s previous work has been renowned for. Characters are given the time to walk the entire length of a road at their own steady pace. Alongside old friends, Guadagnino’s The Staggering Girl includes the new artistic partnership with Valentino’s Piccioli,, who brings a unique essence of eye-catching style. The head of the couture fashion house attaches a whimsical sense of beauty that is essential to this film. The luxury fashion house is known for threading expensive garments and Piccioli weaves this alluring presence of Valentino into the fabric of The Staggering Girl. The film’s women are dressed in glamorous frocks that allude to a seductive fascination.

Kiki Layne wearing a frilly, bold, bright pink Valentino dress
Still from The Staggering Girl

In this intersection of fashion and film, classic and timeless style is abound in costume and Guadagnino’s visual aesthetic that flaunts through the film. The sensual cinematic style embodies an elegance that is perfectly suited to the flowing shape of these costumes. These brightly coloured materials engulf the frame and provide a distraction from the somewhat muddled narrative. Swamped by tailored fabrics, The Staggering Girl is a collaboration that has fashion at the heart of this film. However, it is not a film about fashion, instead, the Valentino couture collection acted only as inspiration. Each costume is an individual character coming to life. Colourful and detailed capes, dresses and coats flow dramatically with every small gesture, draped from character’s bodies with an air of sophistication.

The fragmentation of time in The Staggering Girl comes to a conclusion with a joining of Valentino’s exquisite garments and a surreal moment of flamboyant expression. Reflections upon memory are the central dynamics of this arthouse film. The peculiar presence of characters are occasionally lost amongst the weaving threads of this narrative, The Staggering Girl fumbles over aspects of its own storytelling, but does manage to thread the needle of mysterious intrigue throughout its delicate fabric.

Director: Luca Guadagnino 

Writer: Michael Mitnick

Producer: Luca Guadagnino, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Eleonora Pratelli

Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Goth, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller, KiKi Layne, Alba Rohrwacher

Release: February 15th on MUBI