Gauguin Review

The conceptual dullness of the new French biopic Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti hit me especially hard, since I was fired up to see those Tahitian pictures after a June trip to Paris and the Musee D’Orsay, where many of them reside. Have you been to a highly-touristed art museum lately? It used to be that if you wanted to get close to study the brush strokes it was a guard who’d ask you to step back. Now, it’s people who yell at you for blocking their iPhone photos. The museum’s Postimpressionist area would be a great place to get lost, but, like Paul Gauguin, it ends up making you want to flee civilization for shady pandanus glades halfway around the world — preferably without Gauguin’s raging syphilis.

The syphilis isn’t mentioned by name in Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti, although Gauguin has an unspecified cough that will obviously be fatal, because in biopics there is no such thing as an inconsequential cough. But as played by the febrile Vincent Cassel, this Gauguin seems too tightly wound for sex. The image of Gauguin the voluptuary eating and screwing and painting naked Tahitian women might be a cliché, but the director, Edouard Deluc, has gone to the other extreme. Although the script is based on Gauguin’s own writing, the film presents him as such a gloomy Gus that he might have swapped souls with his onetime pal Van Gogh.

The movie opens in France, where Gauguin is stricken that his oh-so-proper wife won’t come to Tahiti with the kids — though I imagine she’d have put a crimp in his lifestyle if she had. He does need her family money, since rich people are finding his latest works a mite unruly. He’s also dismayed that none of his fellow painters or acolytes will abandon Paris for distant French Colonial paradises. What Deluc gets right is that Gauguin, like most great artists but few in great-artist biopics, spends most of his time not carousing but sitting in front of canvases. What doesn’t come through is how entwined in Tahiti Gauguin’s various impulses were. The artist tells a doctor friend, “I paint and draw all day long and live in harmony with everything around me,” but you don’t see Buddhist oneness in Cassel’s face, especially as he ages into someone resembling Fagin. Non-transcendental, too, are composer Warren Ellis’s somber cellos and violins [. . . ]

Continue at THE VULTURE: Gauguin Review

DVD/Blu-ray: Let the Sunshine In

Un beau soleil intérieur, the film’s French title, is part of a piece of advice given by a clairvoyant (Gérard Depardieu, in a surprise 15-minute cameo at the end of the movie). Try to find the beautiful sun within, he tells Isabelle (a glowing Juliette Binoche) and be “open” (he uses the English word). His huge, dented face seems to take up most of the screen. Isabelle, a lonely, recently divorced artist, who wants him to tell her which of her potential lovers is the best bet, laps his words up tearfully. Any port in a storm.

Whether you enjoy this film by revered director Claire Denis (Beau Travail, White Material; High Life, her first English-language movie, co-starring Binoche and Robert Pattinson, comes out later this year) depends on your tolerance for middle-aged Parisian bobos (bohemian-bourgeois) who flit from gallery to restaurant to loft, having hesitant, repetitive conversations that go nowhere. “What do you want me to say?” “I don’t know,” is a typical example. “It feels so good to stop all this talking,” says Isabelle as she falls into bed with an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). You have to agree.

It’s not quite a comedy, not quite a parody; perhaps it’s a meta romcom. The performances are impressive and there is, no doubt, immense skill in Denis’s elliptical, naturalistic, fragmentary direction. This non-linear approach must owe something to co-scriptwriter and collaborator Christine Angot, whose incantatory repetition in her plays and novels is her trademark style. But it’s just that – like life, perhaps – this plotlessness doesn’t result in anything very satisfying. Isabelle, volatile and seductive in stiletto-heeled thigh-high boots, goes from one unsuitable man to the next, swayed by the breeze, and we get to know none of them. As for her ten-year-old daughter, waiting in the car for her dad to finish arguing with Isabelle over his right to keep the keys to their apartment, we see her for about ten seconds [ . . . ]

Continue reading at THE ARTS DESK : DVD/Blu-ray: Let the Sunshine In

Chanson du Jour: Theme from Midnight Cowboy

John Barry, who supervised the music and composed the score for Midnight Cowboy, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for Harry Nilsson.

Bob Dylan wrote “Lay Lady Lay” to serve as the theme song, but did not finish it in time.T he movie’s main theme, “Midnight Cowboy”, featured harmonica by Toots Thielemans.

Among the film soundtracks that Thielemans recorded are The Pawnbroker (1964), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977). His harmonica theme song for the popular Sesame Street TV show was heard for 40 years.

“Toots” played in both Benny Goodman’s and Charlie Parker’s bands, and on recordings by Edith Piaf, Peggy Lee, and Billy Joel (“Leave a Tender Moment Alone”). He passed away in 2016.