“Beatriz At Dinner”

June 20, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

Salma Hayek plays the title role of Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant who is a holistic healer, in the film Beatriz at Dinner. When her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client (Connie Britton), Beatriz is invited to stay for a “casual” dinner that honors billionaire real-estate tycoon, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow). Strutt’s power and influence contrast sharply with Beatriz’s worldview. Because the parallels to present-day politics and society are easily drawn, Costume Designer Christina Blackaller took pains to paint the characters with a subtle brush. “We didn’t want it to be frivolous in any way,” she says. “We didn’t want to be distracted by any of the characters’ costumes.” But given that each actor is essentially limited to one costume, Blackaller had to find the balance to perfectly express each personality in an understated manner.

To design the film, Blackaller first considered Beatriz’s dedication to her profession. “She’s devised this uniform herself. It’s not required of her, but she wants to be taken seriously, and she’s devoted to her craft.” She wanted to avoid the visual cliché of the Zen healer in white with a crystal pendant, looking instead for a utilitarian look, which was comfortable but not stiff. The solution was to put her in soft, comfortable clothes and in shades of gray to offset the colors worn by the rest of the cast.

According to Blackaller, “The formula was to punctuate the characters with color while keeping things subtle.” Having basically one costume for each character came with a lot of pressure, and Blackaller was relieved when she finally saw the looks together on set complementing and offsetting each other in the way she had imagined. Technical challenges arose from being a small film and not having the costume budget to build the necessary multiples. Instead, Blackaller had to find the pieces she wanted at retail and tailor the wildly different sizes to have the coverage she needed.

Having worked with director Miguel Arteta made for a smooth collaboration. “I really understand him and was so deep into the script by the time we met. It was such an easy process because we already know each other and I felt a trust from him.” That trust was vital for a project that had to make sense emotionally due to the complexity of the characters. “These characters are multi-faceted. No matter where you are politically, spiritually, or philosophically, they all have likable elements to them,” Blackaller explains, “and I think they come to life when you aren’t aware of the clothing.”

Beatriz at Dinner from Roadside Attractions, FilmNation Entertainment, and Elevation Pictures is in theatres now.

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