Vibrant , bold and colourful , lushly filmed , this is a terrific , fascinating biographical look at the illustrious post-Impressionist artist Paul Gaugin ( 1848 -1903) .
It is directed by Edouard Deluc, from a script he wrote with Etienne Comar, Thomas Lilti and Sarah Kaminsky, based on Gauguin’s travel diary “Noa Noa” (Tahitian for “fragrance”) . Starring Vincent Cassel as Gaugin ,It has a score by Warren Ellis and cinematography by Pierre Cottereau. We learn a lot about Gaugin’s life but the film concentrates on the years — 1891 to 1893 -when Gauguin fled the artistic and financial struggles of his difficult Paris life for French Polynesian archipelago.
The film jumps around the world to various important museums , Gaugin’s studio in Paris and also treasured caches on the islands Gaugin visited and the houses he built on the islands . So we see various installations of his works in Paris, Bretagne, Edinburgh, and to the most prestigious art museums of the United States, where most of his masterpieces are preserved: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; The National Gallery of Art in Washington; and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Curators , art historians and other experts talk about Gaugin’s rather turbulent at times life.
There are fabulous views of the islands of Tahiti and the surrounding area and the glorious, luxurious environment today. There is also fascinating black and white footage and or photographs of Paris and elsewhere where Gaugin lived from the period (eg his house Maison du Jour) .
Gaugin’s changes in style and major works are examined (The Bathers , The Yellow Christ ,Vison After the Sermon , La Orana Maria , Tehamana Has Many Ancestors , The Dead Keep Watch , Where Are We Going ? to name just a few ) from his early works in Brittany to the major Tahitian works are discussed and some filmed in extreme close up detail so we can observe the painting and brushstrokes etc. His sculptures are also important .
Gaugin’s life is followed from his youth, his work as a stockbroker and his decision to take up painting full time. We learn about his marriage to Mette , a Danish lady. They had five children . Most unfortunately the marriage eventually collapsed , Mette and the children moving to Denmark . We are informed about his dramatic stay with Van Gogh, which it is thought led to Gaugin’s first trip to Tahiti because of a book Van Gogh lent him. Gaugin escaped to Tahiti because he considered modern society had become decadent, corrupted, and too intellectual—he thought that that the “primitive” native was closer to nature and as such to the truth.
Gaugin turned French Polynesian islands in the South Pacific into a mythical place and idyllic Eden before the fall. He became one of the first Polynesian activists and founded a somewhat controversial newspaper . The film also examines the influence of Christianity and colonialism on Tahitian culture and the conflicts between the power (or lack of it) of women and men and whites and natives. The film presents Gaugin as rather a Romantic artist at times, chronically ill ( he had diabetes , syphilis and heart problems among other things) and penniless, struggling in isolation to survive. It also looks at his various mistresses (well, very young native ‘wives’ who were both his models and bed companions) and the cultural mores of Tahiti as compared to life in Europe – it was quite acceptable /common at the time for men to take young ‘wives ‘ there. (Nowadays it would be quite scandalous).
We learn about Gaugin’s relationship with the Parisian art dealer Vollard , and how he was influenced by Bonnard and the use of Cloisonissme.
The last part of the film is quite sad – we learn of Gaugin’s attempted suicide after the death of his beloved daughter and his lonely death at 55 on Hiva-Oa of the Marquesas Islands . But it is also inspirational as he changed styles yet again .His legacy continues today and we met Gaugin’s descendants . Gaugin influenced Picasso and Degas among others and he still inspires artist today.
A powerful ,hypnotic ,fascinating film.
Running time 90 minutes.
GAUGIN IN TAHITI PARADISE LOST screens at selected cinemas from May 18 2019