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Surviving Picasso

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Surviving Picasso

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Natascha McElhone
Director: James Ivory
Rated: R
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: September 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Julianne Moore, Joss Ackland, Peter Eyre, Jane Lapotaire, Joseph Maher, Bob Peck, Diane Venora, Joan Plowright, Susannah Harker

Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

Well, I survived SURVIVING PICASSO, but I am not sure why I chose to. I could have walked out after about thirty minutes and gotten the gist of the picture which is that Picasso was a boisterous enigma who had numerous parallel affairs with younger women.

Usually reliable Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Pablo Picasso shed no light on him as a man or a painter. I left knowing little more than when I arrived. The only bright light in the film is screen newcomer Natasha McElhone as Francoise Gilot, who was one of Picasso's girlfriends and wives. McElhone has a infectious smile and inner strength, and the camera loves her. I look forward to seeing her in a much better movie.

SURVIVING PICASSO tells the story of Picasso's love affairs from the time of the Nazi occupation of Paris to his death decades later. His painting is treated as secondary material, but for me it is the best part. In fact the only truly involving scene in the entire film is when cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts (REMAINS OF THE DAY, HOWARDS END, and A ROOM WITH A VIEW) zooms in for a close-up of the paint in one of the few times Picasso holds a brush in the show.

Actually, all of the cinematography is done well and the colors are reflective of the bright primary colors in Picasso's paintings. Don't look for his paintings in the film however since his son would not permit them to be shown in the picture. Also, worth noting is the colorful pastel costumes by Carol Ramsey and the surreal sets by Luciana Arrighi. They add a bit of fun to an otherwise dull movie.

When Picasso first meets Francoise and her girlfriend, he warns them, "You are in the labyrinth of the Minotaur. You should know that the Minotaur consumes at least two maidens a day." His view of himself as a dirty old man is shared by his previous lover Dora Maar (Julianne Moore) who tells him, "You may be a great painter, but you are morally corrupt. You've contaminated the whole world."

The script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the book by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, paints an unflattering picture of the artist as a vain and sexist man. Picasso explains to Dora that, "I really like intelligent women. Sometimes, of course, I like stupid ones too," referring to her.

The show argues that Picasso viewed women as mere objects. Upon seeing a cat in a field he remarks, "I love wild cats. They are always pregnant because they think of nothing but love." He then forces Francoise to watch as a big bird swoops down and kills the poor cat. Picasso is not shown to have a remorseful bone in his body. The closest he comes is when he declares, "I make a lot of mistakes, but so does God."

There is one bit of interesting Picasso trivia I did learn. It seems that he saved every piece of cut hair and every nail clipping of his. He had them carefully numbered and dated so that no one could steal them and do black magic against him. One strange guy.

SURVIVING PICASSO runs a very s-l-o-w 2:03. It is rated R, but it is a soft R. There is a single brief scene of full female frontal nudity. The language is pretty mild, and there is no sex or violence. The film would be fine for any teenager, but I see no reason anyone would want to sit through this pointless biography of Picasso's many affairs so I give it a thumbs down and award it a single *.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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