The Mystery of Picasso (1956) Poster

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A priceless document for anyone seriously interested in art
stephen-35726 January 2005
One of the greatest filmmakers of France, Henri-Georges Clouzot, makes a film about his friend Pablo Picasso, perhaps the 20th Century's most renown artist. Clouzot begins with a proposition: if one were present at the conception of a great artistic masterpiece such as Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, and could peek inside the mind of the artist, what would one see? Fortunately, the visual art of painting offers a filmmaker that insight, and so Clouzot begins with Picasso in a dark room with white light directed at an empty canvas. The artist, like a bullfighter, confronts and ultimately displaces the empty space with drama and suspense. Clouzot takes a minimalist approach which chooses to focus on the art rather than the artist, and he achieves this objective by having Picasso sit on one side of a translucent canvas, and the camera on the other capturing only the ink or paint that has been administered, without the distraction or impediment of the artist - pure creation. A window into the mind of the artist! Twenty artworks are created in this manner, each being overlayed with the often suspenseful sounds of Georges Auric's excellent score. With THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO, art becomes exhilarating as one attempts to anticipate what Picasso will do next. "How will he resolve this problem?" Clouzot has created a priceless document for anyone seriously interested in art.
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Picasso's cubical...
mcshortfilm4 August 2005
If there was one word to describe this film for me, it would be "inspirational". And I think anyone who practices art or appreciates the process of art, can find this film enjoyable to watch. The film's title speaks for itself. We are engaged in an experimental documentary watching a prodigy at work and trying to unravel the magic of how it all happens. In the beginning there is a voice-over narrated introduction to the film, "Nobody knew what Rimbaud thought of when he wrote the poem "the drunk boat"." And then we realize that we are in for a real treat. Who would ever guess that the master of cubism would allow us to see his creative ideas at work? Most artists are very stubborn about this sort of thing, but then again most famous artists are also pretty ego-centric. The film places the camera behind a canvas that leaves the image transparent so that we can see the painting process without looking over the shoulder. There is a beautiful classical score along with this film and as the drawings progress, Picasso then takes on bigger challenges with paintings. The pacing is just right where the drawing process starts slow and then the strokes become faster with time-lapse photography. There is an amazing moment where the cameraman warns Picasso that he is about to run out of film. Picasso asks how many feet is left and calculates the timing of his painting and just at the last second, Picasso transforms the entire piece into something unexpected and radically different. We can see the spontaneity and playfulness in his work. The end is a mural shaped painting that evolves through many stages until Picasso says something like "its ruined. I have ruined the painting and yet at the same time, its improving." This is an indication of Picasso's fearless drive. When he paints, he is on fire. He works diligently for hours. Its fascinating to see little figures that he will paint over and over with more detail or more color. He wants to emphasize details that seem so ambiguous and its as if he's saying to the audience "look at this" "keep looking at this" "this is important." I first saw this film in the theater when I was about ten or twelve years old. I'm glad my family friends took me to see this. It has inspired me throughout the years. I saw the film again when I was twenty-four and it was just as I remembered it. After it was over, I did the same thing I did when I first saw the film; I pulled out a sketchbook and started drawing. This film is a real treat.
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Fascinating! A must see for artists and art lovers.
melissa.ricks28 June 2001
I received a VHS copy of this film from a friend who was going to trash it. My mother weaned me on trips to art galleries, spoon fed me stories of the personal lives of classic and modern masters, I worked in an art gallery liaisoning with the artists we represented and studied the psychology of creativity in college. This film had me riveted! I felt as though I was invited to eavesdrop, peek in on a great master at work. Every brush stroke was fascinating. I enjoyed the trip Picasso took me on as he started out painting one image and changed it into something else along the way. I enjoyed watching what appeared to be random brush strokes turn into a completed thought. This film helped me feel what it must be like to know when to stop... to know when you have finished a work... when you may have overworked it, when you may not have quite completed. It made me want to paint, not for others but for the simple pleasure one gets from the act of putting pigment on paper. It allowed me to feel free to create without fear of criticism. A must see for all artist and art lovers.
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butterfinger23 November 2004
Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Mystery of Picasso starts by announcing that we will have the pleasure of entering the mind of Pablo Picasso, seeing how he gets his creative inspiration; the film promises us that the only way to do this is to watch Picasso's hand. Picasso paints on paper that the ink bleeds through, putting the camera on the other side of Picasso's canvas and watching the a reversed version painting appear in a seemingly magical way. It becomes clear early on that Clouzot is not wholeheartedly trying to show us how Picasso gets his inspiration; that is a mystery. Clouzot wants to capture the joy of painting. That's what makes this film so entertaining: watching bizarre, beautiful images appear out of nowhere. Sometimes Clouzot uses jump-cuts to show us the different phases of a work in progress at a rapid-fire velocity and then reverses the painting in the same jump-cut technique, deconstructing Picasso's. This is all scored to fiery jazz music. We also see Picasso while painting, as his painting is timed. (Picasso has a great screen presence). Clouzot is equally concerned with deconstructing Picasso's work to understand what makes this fast-working artist tick, showing how impossible that task is, and wowing us all the way through. As far as wowing goes, Clouzot did a pretty good job, with scenes that ranged from unforgettable to pleasantly surprising.
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A film as a priceless treasure:
Galina14 April 2007
A-one-of-a-kind look at the artistic process, the unique art documentary captures the creativity itself. Two friends, the great painter and the great director, Pablo Picasso and Henri-George Clouzot decided to do what Goethe's Faust had dreamed about - to capture and to store forever the moment of beauty and inspiration. Picasso conceives, sketches, and paints twenty canvases before our eyes as the camera rolls. The film did not solve the mystery of Picasso who had said about himself, "When I was 9 years old, I could paint like Rafael; as an adult, all my life I tried to learn how to paint like a child" but it lets us to be the eye-witnesses of the amazing process - the birth of twenty works of art into existence. Twenty exiting moments the only Artist could live through are captured forever for us to enjoy again and again. Clouzot uses a specially designed transparent 'canvas' to provide an unobstructed view and different techniques including slow motion animation to let the main character, the invisible Picasso's brush speak for itself. The film is accompanied by exquisite music and gorgeous photography by Claude Renoir, grandson of impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and nephew of Jean Renoir. The paintings created by Picasso in the film cannot be seen anywhere else. They were destroyed upon completion of the film. The French government has taken over the preservation of the original negative and has declared this truly unique and priceless documentary a national (and I would call it an international) treasure.

Criterion DVD also includes "Guernica", a short documentary directed in 1950 by Alain Resnais before any of his feature films. Picasso's "Guernica" is one of the most famous paintings of the 20th Century which was created by the artist in response to bombing and destroying the ancient Basque town of Guernica by German aviation on April 27 1937 during Spanish Civil War. The painting is a passionate protest against war as well as the fascinating work of art. Resnais' 13 minutes short film is based on paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Pablo Picasso from 1902 until 949 including "Guernica" and is set against the ode written by French lyrical poet Paul Éluard and recited by Jacques Pruvost and María Casarès. In his early short film, Resnais already uses his famous jump cuts and cross-fades. "Guernica" is a valuable feature which goes well together with the marvelous "The Mystery of Picasso" and adds to understanding one of the most prolific and mysterious Artists of the last century.
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cscjr817 May 2001
This film reminds us that film is visual - very few words are spoken in Le Mystère Picasso. Instead, the camera just trains in canvas and white paper and watches Picasso create. It could have been boring, but instead it's hypnotic. One learns about the creative process without lecture!
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Better than expected
t-collins-129 July 2004
I've always known that Pablo Picasso was one of the most prolific characters of the 20th century. I've also heard about how this film was made many times before, that is with the translucent screen between the camera and Picasso. At the beginning I thought that it was a bit slow and I remember wondering if I was in the midst of 2 hours of Picasso drawing picture after picture. And indeed it was, with a few breaks where we actually see and hear Picasso interact with the camera men. But, amazingly, once you get into watching the short drawing exercises, it becomes very captivating. You aren't sure what he's drawing, and then a line and a squiggle later it is a bull or a woman or whatever. The most mesmerizing part though, as another writer said, was when he was painting the beach scene and he kept painting over his work over and over again. What he was painting over was amazing and it made you wonder why he felt like it just didn't work.
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A French National Treasure
Claudio Carvalho31 January 2006
Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French director of the masterpieces "Les Diaboliques" and "Le Salaire de la Peur" convinced his friend Pablo Picasso to make this documentary, painting twenty paints in front of the cameras. Using some special technique, Clouzot filmed from the other side of the canvas or stop-motion, and the result is this movie, where two geniuses are gathered: one behind and the other in front of the camera. In accordance with the information on the DVD, the canvases have been destroyed in the end of the shootings. Further, in 1984, the French government declared this documentary a national treasure. Clouzot and Picasso deserved this beautiful homage. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "O Mistério de Picasso" ("The Mystery of Picasso")
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The mystery
miloc23 September 2011
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known in America for his expert thrillers (Diabolique, The Wages of Fear, Le Corbeau) captures a different kind of suspense in this astonishing documentary: can the viewer think faster than Picasso?

Of course not, don't be ridiculous. Pablo Picasso, seen here in his seventies, creates 20-odd paintings for the camera (a couple of them in real time), running rings around us as he goes. We see a line cross the screen, and then another, and then color spatters about; drawn on bleed-through paper the images come to us unmediated, like daydreams. Before we know it scenes take shape, populated by Picasso's stock company of matadors, clowns, leering old men, and towering, serene, bare-breasted women, their faces regally aloof.

This is Picasso Playful. Clouzot informs him at one point that there are only five minutes of film left and asks him what he wants to do. The old man replies "It'll be a surprise," quickly sketching a bouquet of roses and then taking it through acrobatic transformations, faking us out with deadpan glee. His buoyancy counterweights some of the director's more awkward touches, such as the portentous intro, some over-dramatic music, a few probably staged conversations... but who cares? This is dynamic, visual cinema-- in a sense, a great animated film.

Some of the earlier drawings are merely a master's doodles; others make your jaw drop with their absolute sureness of line. He'll send a stroke wriggling upward, graceful as a ribbon of smoke, and suddenly that wriggle is a bull with man tossed on its horns, and as the shapes gather and the colors erupt the thing becomes impossibly beautiful, a small perfection. Picasso returns to the image later, breaking out the oils, and here the film truly takes off. "I want to go deeper," Picasso tells Clouzot, and he does. We realize what we were missing in those first drawings: texture. The head of a goat coheres and takes on animal reality, the pigments bright as stained glass. Picasso ages it, makes it solid. What would be a major work for a lesser artist here is a throwaway, literally; the paintings were destroyed after filming. The least of them could have paid for my house.

In that intro Clouzot says something about "looking into the mind of the artist" or somesuch, but the title really says it all. At the beginning the artist saunters out shirtless from the studio's shadows. At the end he declares, "It is finished," and saunters back. What could possibly account for the existence of a Pablo Picasso remains a mystery untouched.
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One of the best things that I've ever seen.
crow100110 February 2004
I was moved beyond words. It was amazing to see what this man was doing on canvas second-to-second. To actually see the decisions made and the mannerisms in his strokes is something that I did not know was possible until I saw this film on IFC. This is priceless.
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My brief review of the film
sol-15 September 2005
A fascinating look at the creative process, filmed in a unique fashion, using a clever technique to capture Picasso's work as he is painting without his hand or his brush getting in the way. This method is actually shown and explained during a live action sequence in the middle. Although the film is mostly just a set of different Picasso paintings in action, interactions between the film's director and Picasso are added in, which not only decreases tedium from the at times monotonous paintwork, but it also makes it a whole lot more interesting, as it feels as if we are there with Clouzot and Picasso in a film studio. The material still becomes a tad repetitive and it tires before the film is over, but set to some great music and actually showing Picasso working through his creative process, this is remarkable, one-of-a-kind film-making and definitely worth checking out.
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An invaluable record, despite its faults
Chris Knipp27 January 2007
Picasso (at 75, typically vigorous and wearing only shorts) drew or painted with colored ink on stretched canvas or paper which Clouzot's cameraman photographed from the back to show the artist doing maybe 20 paintings as they unfold from a few lines to a piece bristling with shapes and color. The assumption behind this is a little naive as Michael Atkinson said six years ago in the Voice. Atkinson called it the "bourgeois" assumption that we can see into the mind of an artistic genius by watching him at work. Well, as some of the sequences show and as the old Art News series "So-and-So Paints a Picture" showed, actually you can learn quite a lot about how an artist works out his ideas by following the sequence -- especially if he makes a lot of changes, and it is fascinating to get that kind of inside look. A slight weakness of Clouzot's film is that the process is staged, and allegedly (some say it isn't true) the paintings were even destroyed after the film was made.

Now, some of these pictures Picasso whipped off aren't particularly good. But Picasso worked fast normally. And as Motherwell once said, his unsuccessful paintings were necessary stepping-stones to the good ones. If you've looked at a lot of Picasso's work as I have, including the Skira suite of 180 drawings titled in the English edition "Picasso and the Human Comedy" of 1954,* which relates directly to some of the drawings done for the film, there won't be much "mystery" about the sequences--particularly as they relate to drawings. Toward the end though, Picasso starts doing some full-fledged paintings with overlays (I'm not at all sure how that was filmed, possibly by another method), where he really changes things all around multiple times (as he did with some of his etchings too--and looking at the sequence of them will give you very similar information). That's more like the abstract expressionists (De Kooning, for instance) memorably chronicled in the "........Paints a Picture" Art News articles, and such metamorphoses do show the genius of the man, if not really how it works, since we're looking at, not into. I think Atkinson calls Georges Auric's music "bombastic." I found it unnecessary and turned it off (though thereby missing some of the self-conscious narration and dialogue), and I also speeded up the painting sequences because I can think visually faster than this movie plods along. The self-importance of the project is not untypical of other Fifties coverage of super-famous artists and it's mildly grating, but though I waited a long time, this film had to be seen.

*This book cost about $25 then. It is now worth a couple thousand dollars. Similarly the film has supposedly been declared a "national treasure" by the French. "Bourgeois" or "hagiographic" or self-important though it may be, this is an invaluable record..

(Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Mystère Picasso 1956. Netflix DVD. Not a particularly good one: minimal visual quality and the commentary would not open.)
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An art film as art
warren-1020 February 1999
This is my favorite art film. The premise is simple: treat film as though it were a canvas and witness the process of creating a work -- brushstroke by brushstroke. The part where Picasso is laying down a beach scene -- layer by layer -- where the characters and background are continuously reworked is mesmerizing!
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An important and unique portray of Picasso's genius
Daniel Karlsson2 August 2014
This is not a perfect film; it could have been better produced. But it is very important for stunning insights into how Picasso thinks and works, saved on camera.

When we look at a painting we see only the end result of a creative process. This film uniquely (to my knowledge) shows the previous steps in that process. How a picture evolves out of a trial process that produces several masterpieces, which are consumed and transformed into the end result - and, of which only the end result remains.

In this process you will witness many stunningly beautiful works. The motives are typical: homes, bulls, goats, women and landscapes in Spain. It seems as if Picasso's greatest weakness was that he overworked his paintings to a degree that they in some cases became less masterly than mid-way into a process - in some cases it even leads to the ruin of a whole work and the painter has to start fresh again.

For the joy and unique insight of Picasso's creative process that the film brings, it needs to be preserved and watched for all future generations.
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Operation, The Apex And History Of Cinema
Men_Moi11 January 2014
Clouzot directs this unbelievable production, of a aging Picasso, to draw on his notoriety and fame, and teach painting on your VHS, on your DVD, on your Blu-Ray, in the Cinema, on TV, on your Computer! It's in the fine details, the process of painting is translated on camera to get a closer look into the brush that is Pablo Picasso. Cinema reaches it's highest output and result in this A+ visual experiment. I call it, "The Apex And History of Cinema."

You get a behind the scene look in the filming, with some dialogue added to the fluid operations taking place using the, I think silk'ish canvas that would be transparent to capture on celluloid.

One of the only films that you can never stop enjoying. To infinity, and then some. It's Picasso and Clouzot who validate cinema as fine art, or as close as you get to fine art, anyhow.
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celebes17 May 2007
This is a fascinating film, giving the viewer some insight into the creative process of one of the giants of 20th century art. The filmmaker uses some special equipment and time lapse photography to show the evolution of about 20 drawings and paintings that Picasso made for this film in 1956, when he was 75. Although Picasso is in the film, we don't actually see him during the painting process. The paintings fill the entire frame and the brush strokes appear one stroke at a time, giving the feel of a magical children's animated film.

After some quick drawings with decidedly mixed results in which Picasso draws on the back of a light box ( We can see the colors change as the paint dries), Picasso tells the filmmaker he wants to replicate his actual painting process more accurately with oil paint.

The film technique switches here to time lapse photography, and what astounded me is how many revisions, obliterations and over paintings Picasso did. I had an image of him in my mind as a sure-handed artist who rarely reworked paintings- a supremely confident virtuoso. However he repaints parts of some of these paintings literally dozens of times. Different sections of the paintings are constantly morphing from one style to another. He often uses white to go back in and change the drawing.

In this respect, he is much closer to an artist like deKooning than I thought, constantly painting over entire sections and using white to define his line. A major difference was that deKooning left far more evidence of the struggle than Picasso. Interestingly, deKooning was near the height of his fame when this film was made. Picasso's greatest works, of course, were done 40 and 50 years before this film.

What we see here is an artist for whom the act of painting is enough, who is no longer in the avant garde, but who still struggles with the creative process. For artists of a certain age, for whom Picasso was a towering presence to be reckoned with, this film demystifies him, revealing an artist of mortal limitations. But also an artist of great courage and freedom.
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The Dot Thickens...
nikhil71792 May 2007
Peter Greenaway was right. A work of art is never finished, only stopped.

Mystery of Picasso is an incredible film that unveils the painter's ingenious techniques and is just as suspenseful and intriguing as anything else Clouzot ever did.

The greatest art form of the 20th century records the greatest artist of the 20th century. Only Cinema could breathe this kind of life into the work of the master.

Picasso attacks the canvas like a man possessed, tapping an infinite reservoir of imagination and creativity.

He reworks and reinvents his paintings over and over again. The stop-motion techniques find perfect expression here and make the film seem less like live-action and more like a work of animation. Picasso's canvases are transformed into organic living creatures - in a constant state of metamorphosis and evolution.

The best part about having this on DVD is the option of the viewer in deciding when enough is enough. All you have to do is hit the pause button and admire the masterpiece before you.

The film is a perfect synthesis of an artist and a filmmaker - both at the height of their creative powers.
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When is an artist finished? When does an artist go too far?
hoytjsmith8 May 2006
This film is as visually pleasing as it is intellectually stimulating. Much as time-lapse photography reveals in seconds the weeks-long emergence, growth and blooming of a sprout into a flower, "The Mystery of Picasso" reveals the growth and evolution of several paintings. Each stage of each creation is a painting unto itself. To watch this film is quite literally to browse a metaphorical gallery of progressively different compositions. Quite often, the viewer may feel that Picasso has gone too far; that he should have rested his paint brush and walked away earlier than he did. Of course that comprises the intellectual weight of the film. When is an artist done? It is a question that writers, poets, painters, even film makers ponder. Imagine reading alternative, unpublished chapters of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; or imagine watching several varying, unedited director's cuts of a Luis Bunuel film. Henri-Georges Clouzot leaves his audience with an incredible appreciation for the dynamic, living, breathing process that goes into each Picasso canvas. Clouzot adds drama toward the end by informing Picasso that his film is running out. Is it really? The maestro doesn't seem to be rushed. Either that or he performs remarkably well under pressure.
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how to create, by Clouzot and Picasso (mostly Picasso)
MisterWhiplash13 April 2008
The Mystery of Picasso is to painting what Woodstock is to hippies: it's a definitive piece that comes only once in a very great while. Cluzot, the director, is innovative by just letting Picasso go on with his work, and like a good concert director only gets so much in the way to make it interesting as a piece of cinema. What we get here are almost two dozen pieces from Picasso- who, already in his old age, can still paint not only like some fiery master but with an A-game every step of the way- and the camera films it from the other side of the canvas most of the time, capturing what goes on it in a seamless style. We're never aware of a brush going onto the canvas, or color being added on from the paintbrush itself, but we know there's creation because we're seeing it made in front of our eyes. It's exhilarating if you're the right kind of audience.

And by 'right kind of audience' I mean the kind that has an affinity or interest in art, and particularly for Picasso. I'm not art critic, so I can't pretend to go completely in-depth on all of Picasso's pieces, or explain definitively why they're good or crappy or masterworks. It is my opinion that Picasso's works are total originals, and they're like surrealist works from a childlike perspective, though still with a pure sense of the anarchic that we expect from such artistic rebels. But with certain drawings, like the two men staring at the woman, or the bullfighter and the bull, or that strange (dare I define which is stranger than one or another) picture of the flowers, or that creepy chicken, you don't really know what's going to happen next with the drawing or painting (especially if it's one of the ones in color and done in stop-motion), and this, alongside excellent and varied music, puts a sense of surprise into every painting, of what colors and movements will go next.

I loved this movie, though as I said it takes a certain mood to get into it. Obviously, any fan of Picasso or any of those 'out-there' early 20th century masters will go completely ga-ga for the film, and for the innovative style that's mixed in (i.e. going in-between sometimes the canvas itself and Cluzot sort of 'directing' Picasso to go faster or to another picture). But even for those who usually don't have an interest in this stuff, it's worth taking a chance; you certainly won't see anything else like it in cinema.
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I've finally seen A Picasso being created
horacekohanim20 July 2007
This is a remarkable, swift, simple, beautiful, profound, fun and candid vision of the blank canvas turning into A Picasso. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot does just enough to infuse himself and the documentary presence of film, allowing the master to riff a couple dozen times. Simply watching the images appear and then evolve is a treat, scored with music. Picasso too brings some of himself to the film, but the dialogue is minimal, again focusing on the images he creates. This is a very memorable work. It could succeed in a classroom for elementary, high school or even college students. It could play on a loop at a party. An artist could play and rewind a particular sequence, perhaps wanting to copy Picasso's brilliance. Great.
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Documentary film of Picasso.
acingst21 December 2015
This is a documentary film of Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso is painter. He is so popular in the world. His life is from October 25, 1881 until April 8, 1973. He is Spanish. The most typical picture of Picasso is the Guernica. Guernica's theme is anti-war. Although Picasso is such a person, in fact, there is a rare film that motif is later years of Picasso. This film is made by Henri-Georges Clouzot director. This film is documentary. At first, white screen is reflected. Then, the line is extended to the white screen. When the audience is looking at the line, it gradually becomes a picture of something. And the line is applied. Then, the first picture is changing to another picture. The audience seems to like watching the animated film. After that, Picasso appears in the screen. Then the film reflects the process of production of the painting by Picasso. This film is a simple story Picasso draws a picture. However, the audience is pulled into the film. I cannot stop watching the film until last. Perhaps you would see this film in mysterious ways.
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