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Set in Paris in 1919, biopic centers on the life of late Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, focusing on his last days as well as his rivalry with Pablo Picasso. Modigliani, a Jew, has fallen in love with Jeanne, a young and beautiful Catholic girl. The couple has an illegitimate child, and Jeanne's bigoted parents send the baby to a faraway convent to be raised by nuns. Modigliani is distraught and needs money to rescue and raise his child. The answer arrives in the shape of Paris' annual art competition. Prize money and a guaranteed career await the winner. Neither Modigliani, nor his dearest friend and rival Picasso have ever entered the competition, believing that it is beneath true artists like themselves. But push comes to shove with the welfare of his child on the line, and Modigliani signs up for the competition in a drunken and drug-induced tirade. Picasso follows suit and all of Paris is aflutter with excitement at who will win. With the balance of his relationship with Jeanne... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
I'd give this movie an award for the best imperfect movie I've ever seen or the most impressive movie that has grown on me as I watched it or the movie with the most clichéd ridiculous first hour that gradually picked up its momentum and become a film of rare beauty and incredible power. As the title suggests, this is a film about time and life of one of the most charismatic Artists of the last century, Amedeo Modigliani (1884 - 1920). Last April, I visited a wonderful exhibit of his works in The Phillips Collection at Washington DC that hosted nearly 100 of his paintings, sculptures, and drawings on loan from U.S. and international collections. Modigliani's style is so unique and striking distinguished by strong linear rhythms and simple elongated forms that it takes only seeing couple of his stunning, sensual and aesthetical portraits to never forget him. His name, "Amedeo", has such a beautiful and sad meaning, knowing the story of his short life. "Amedeo" means beloved by God, and he sure was, talented, charming, and charismatic. But as the saying goes, the ones whom the Gods love die young. Modigliani health was very poor, and his life style did not help it. He died from tuberculosis and meningitis when he was 35. His lover, his muse, and the mother of his daughter, 21 year old Jeanne Heubeten who was pregnant with their second child by the time of Amedeo's death, did not want and could not survive him. On the day following Modigliani's death, she threw herself from the window on the fifth floor and killed herself...You may say, "How melodramatic" but life sometimes is more dramatic than any work of art or literature.
The casting of 49 year old Andy Garcia as 35 year old Modigliani seems a little strange but Garcia did his best working with the material. There was a moment in the movie when he addresses someone, "What is the matter with you?" with such obvious Brooklyn accent that I felt like watching "Godfather, part 4 ½". Actually, most of the dialogs in the first hour or so were rather unintentionally funny. It seemed to me that the director tried different approaches to his film. Modigliani came from Italy we see many times the parade of clowns on the streets of his native Livorno as the recurring image that could've came from Fellini's films. Then, film looked in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin-Rouge" direction with the songs and music from different epochs (and I said to myself, oh please, no). Davis also compares Modigliani's life with that of another Amadeus, struggling genius child from 18th century Vienna the film brought a Mozart / Salieri theme with a successful and rich fellow painter who comparing to Salieri happened to be a very talented Artist himself - Pablo Picasso. So, for the first hour, the film struggled (almost as much as its protagonist) but then, something happened. The film's creator realized that the Artists are interesting not only because of their personal problems, weaknesses, struggles, preferences but first and foremost because of their talents, of their abilities to create, to look at the world like no one before them did, to capture their impressions in the forms and images that even after they are long gone make our hearts beat faster, make us say, "This is beauty, this is poetry, this is perfection". The scenes of incredible power just come one after another, the scenes with few or no words spoken at all. Among them, Picasso's and Modigliani's visit to one of the titans of 19 century, August Renoir in his country mansion. Renoir was shown as the old, wheel chair bound man who had to be spoon fed by his nurse but who obviously had sharp mind and more wisdom than both Picasso and Modigliani together. Later, there was a long scene showing young painters - Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, and Amedeo Modigliani working on their paintings for the Grand Prix de Peinture, the yearly art competition at the famed Salon des Artistes. Close to the movie's end comes my favorite scene the opening of the Salon with the presentation of each painting there is no rivalry, no competition any more each work of art shines and every artist is happy to admit the talent and uniqueness of his fellow competitor.
So, what do I think of "Modigliani", the movie directed by Mick Davis? I enjoyed it and I would recommend it to others. Andy Garcia, who is not my favorite actor, won me over with his performance in spite of the problems (many) with the script. I've been always interested in the period of post War World 1 Art history when everybody who was anybody tried to be in Paris, the Art Mecca for many generations of Artists and the film's depiction of the Modigliani's contemporaries was interesting and made me want to research more about them. I'd like to see more movies with the actress Elsa Zylberstein who played Jeanne her melancholic beauty, grace and talent are undeniable and helped to make the movie based on the Artist's life compelling, convincing, and remarkable.
P.S. According to Pablo Picasso's personal physician, the Artist who had survived Modigliani by more than 50 years, whispered his name on his deathbed.
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