There has been some talk that filmmakers tend to fail when it comes to portraying the lives of great painters. Turner, Pollock, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Goya, Munch, you name it. They all have been adapted into the big screen, and many of them more than once. But there is always something mysterious and intriguing when it comes to translating the magic of paintings into moving images, which made me think about five incredible movies about such artists.
“At Eternity’s Gate (2018)” by Julian Schnabel
From the same director of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, At Eternity’s Gate is William Dafoe’s latest film which got him a nomination for an Academy Award. More striking than Dafoe’s performance is what Julian Schnabel does with the film by using an epileptic mise en scene who is constantly on the move to portray Vincent Van Gogh’s desperation towards life and his anxieties about the eternity. The color palette of the film is formed by a hypnotic yellow and blue cinematography that is constantly changing and strongly appearing in the middle of an incredible camera movement which becomes even more beautiful with its natural light. Unlike Vincente Minnelli’s film, At Eternity’s Gate isn’t judgemental or falls into melodramatic moments, but embraces the beauty of Van Gogh’s legacy and his craziness, which according to his dialogue, is what makes him feel better. An outstanding film.
“Caravaggio (1986)” by Derek Jarman
With a very loose narrative, Caravaggio is one of Darek Jarman’s most notable works. By telling the story of Caravaggio’s life, Darek Jarman uses the power of cinema to freeze a moment that is easily transferred into a canvas by recreating Caravaggio’s paintings with real people. The cinematography of the movie itself feels like one of Caravaggio’s painting, and being Jarman being a homosexual as Caravaggio, he creates a beautiful homoerotic tale about desperation and murder with beautiful artistic sequences that doesn’t necessarily mean something, but it definitely adds up to the beauty of the movie itself.
“Edvard Munch (1974)” by Peter Watkins
Probably one of the most haunting biopic experiences I’ve ever seen, Edvard Munch is a 3 and a half hours movie about the life of the Norwegian expressionist painter. Covering about 30 years of his life, Peter Watkin’s movie is made like a documentary narrating events of Edvard Munch’s life using real actors. Also, by telling the story of such a dark painter, this film is surrounding by darkness, death, and blood, subjects that also took a great part of Munch’s trajectory. It’s a very hypnotic film and I dare to say I haven’t seen many similar movies like this one, making Edvard Munch a must watch if you are interested in painter biopics.
“Andrei Rublev (1966)” by Andrei Tarkovsky
Called by many people Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Andrei Rublev is another 3 hour odyssey about a famous Russian painter of the Orthodox church in medieval Russia. Divided in eight parts, the film covers several years of the painter’s life, exploring themes such as faith, existentialism, and art. With an outstanding visuals and production designs, Andrei Rublev is considered by many one of the greatest films ever made. It has been recently remastered by the Criterion Collection and I definitely must re-watch it as I’ve seen it about eight years ago and I don’t remember much. Either way, a classic.
“The Lovers of Montparnasse (1958)” by Jacques Becker
The movie that made me discover the incredible Gérard Philippe and made me officially fall in love for Jacques Becker, The Lovers of Montparnasse or Montparnasse 19 is Amedeo Mondigliani’s biography. More than that, is a love story between him and Beatriz Hastings, a girl who studies painting from a healthy family. Like many painters’ biography, Modigliano lived a poor life and the way Jacques Becker romanticizes his bohemian days in Paris makes The Lovers of Montparnasse of a remarkable and beautiful film about a man who doesn’t know what he wants from life and isn’t happy with anything but his paintings.