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Erik L. Christensen
Following a rough chronology from 1884 to 1894, when Norwegian artist Edvard Munch began expressionism and established himself as northern Europe's most maligned and controversial artist, the film also flashes back to the death from consumption of his mother, when he was five, his sister's death, and his near death at 13 from pulmonary disease. The film finds enduring significance in Munch's brief affair with "Mrs. Heiberg" and his participation in the café society of anarchist Hans Jaeger in Christiania and later in Berlin with Strindberg. Through it all comes Munch's melancholy and his desire to render on canvas, cardboard, paper, stone, and wood his innermost feelings. Written by
I felt as if there were invisible threads between us. I felt as if invisible threads from her hair still twisted themselves around me. And, when she completely disappeared there, over the ocean, then I felt still how it hurt, where my heart bled, because the threads could not be broken.
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I just watched this movie last night and I came to this site to see how many awards this movie won. I was shocked when I saw that this was a TV movie that has apparently won no awards whatsoever! The movie is absolutely brilliant and completely mesmerizing.
Rather than just detailing the chronology of the artist's life, the film tells Munch's story by juxtaposing his excruciating emotional, sexual, and spiritual conflicts against his quiet and composed public facade. Raised in a Puritan middle-class Norwegian family, Munch rebelled early on by joining a group of Bohemian artists that met nightly to discuss the strict but hypocritical rules of Norwegian society which prized marriage and purity on the one hand while allowing legalized prostitution (supervised by the local police department) on the other. Munch's mother died when he was very young and before dying, made him and his sister promise to always be good, follow Jesus, and turn away from earthly desires. The movie tries to show how his early experiences caused a lifelong tension between sexual desire, unfulfilled love, emotional trauma, and spiritual guilt that created extreme anxiety and depression that, in turn, becomes a part of Munch's art. He tries to either excise or describe his pain through his art, I'm not sure which.
The movie layers multiple sounds and sights to create the story. So, for example, when Munch has his first sexual encounter with the love of his life, who is a married woman, the scene shifts back and forth between images of him kissing his love on the neck and mouth and scenes of his mother coughing up blood and being supported by her sisters as she dies. In many scenes of the movie, when he is painting, you hear a piano playing in a bar with all the bar noises and overlaying that sound is the sound of Munch weeping after he lost his love, all the while showing him attacking the canvas violently as he paints.
As others have said, the painful story of Munch's life and art is also interlaced with information about the society he lived in and stories from the news. So throughout the movie, you hear news snippets like when Hitler was born or when a revolution breaks out in Venezuela or a story about a riot in London. There are interviews with factory workers who work 16 hour days or prostitutes who are trying to support their families. There are a lot of details about the sexual revolution of the Bohemians and the painful affairs that resulted from that. There are quite a few bar discussions about Marxism, women's rights, censorship, and art. You just can't imagine people having these kinds of discussions today. One of Munch's mentors was jailed after he wrote a book that was considered too provocative for proper society. Munch also had exhibitions shut down because they were considered improper and immoral.
I strongly recommend this movie. I'm wondering if I'll ever see anything like this again.
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