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David L. Cunningham
Paris, 1880. Paul Gauguin is a successful financier. He lives in Paris with his wife Mette and their four children. But when his passion for painting becomes a mission to revolutionize art, Gauguin must unleash the savage within himself. To do so he gives up his job and comfortable lifestyle, leading his family into a downward spiral of poverty and travels to Tahiti. His voyages take him even further from his beloved family and teach him the true meaning of the word sacrifice. What price must he pay in order to pursue his dream? Written by
Some great sets, and of course great art, but it's poorly directed and filmed dully
Paradise Found (2003)
Paul Gauguin is a great artist, and his work is daring and beautiful. So whenever the movie lets the work show through--and it does several times--it rises to its best. And the man playing the artist, improbable as it is, is Kiefer Sutherland, who does a decent job. It's hard to say to what extent he is true to the real man--how can anyone know?--but he combines intensity and craziness in good measure.
And, to keep on the good notes, it's actually not so bad how German-born Nastassjia Kinski handles the Danish wife of Gauguin, Mette-Sophie. Several other characters make brief appearances, the one most famous is Pissarro played by Alun Armstrong, who I didn't know, but who is strong enough at making the Impressionist slightly out of touch with the changing tides of art. In fact, what the movie does accomplish is show some sense of the art scene in Paris from Gauguin's point of view, and Gauguin's friendship with Pissarro as a catalyst to his becoming a serious artist.
The story is told in interspersed flashbacks, which are distracting and almost arbitrary. It begins with Gauguin's arrival in Tahiti, then jumps back 17 years to Paris, then to Tahiti, back and forth uncountable times. And without reason, except to chop the movie up, as if a chronological telling would be dull.
More troubling is the depiction of Tahiti (and other islands in French Polynesia). It plays loose with facts. Historically, the islands were largely ruined and in disease from the colonists, not the idyllic paradise shown here, infested with a handful of soldiers and an excessively zealous Christian missionary. The struggle of the islanders to preserve their religious icons is overemphasized, and the struggle of Gauguin to land women and young girls for sex is underemphasized. He's passionate and troubled, broke and dirty. That is, he's an artist, through and through.
So it gets a bit tiring. And in fact, between all the little eruptions of energy and conflicting emotions, very little happens, really happens. And it's filmed plainly, to the point of being dull, cutting from person to person in conversation as if by formula. The sets are well done and sometimes quite beautiful, and they should have inspired a more intense visual approach. As the paintings themselves should have, too.
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