In 1871, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), an established poet, invites boy genius Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) to live with Paul and his young pregnant wife, Mathiltde, in her father's home in Paris. Rimbaud's uncouth behavior disrupts the household as well as the insular society of French poets, but Verlaine finds the youth invigorating. Stewed in absinthe and resentment, Verlaine abuses Mathiltde; he and Rimbaud become lovers and abandon her. There are reconciliations and partings with Mathiltde and partings and reconciliations with Rimbaud, until an 1873 incident with a pistol sends one of them to prison. Codas dramatize the poets' final meeting and last illnesses.Written by
David Thewlis shaved part of his head especially for the film so as to look like the real Verlaine. See more »
In the Café Andre where the adult Isabelle Rimbaud meets with Paul Verlaine, the typeface on the window is clearly in Helvetica, a typeface that was not created until 1954. See more »
Sometimes he speaks in a kind of tender dialect of the death which causes repentence, of the unhappy men who certainly exist, of painful tasks and heartrending departures. In the hovels where we got drunk he wept looking at those who surrounded us, the cattle of poverty. He lifted up drunks in the black streets. He had the pity a bad mother has for small children. He moved with the grace of a little girl at catechism. He pretended to know about everything, business, art, medicine. ...
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Genius is by nature sui generis. Most of us can only observe and wonder, and from time to time pretend we are similarly gifted. As for the actual behavior of genius, it almost always entails what is commonly known as bad manners.
The other striking feature of genius, for some but not all, is what is commonly known as insanity. Although modern science has defined various types of mental disorder and found causes and cures for some of them, it really begs the question to try to judge character or morality on the basis of scientific data. Art lies after all outside the realm of science, and always will do.
Having said that, I believe the film Total Eclipse must be reviewed or criticized solely on whether it is a good work of art. My opinion is that it succeeds at some levels, and fails at others.
I accept that the writer and director knew exactly what they were doing at every step. Except for a few quibbles about editing, I agree that the artistic concept and the technique are first rate. The musical score is excellent. The camera angles are generally adept at conveying the actions and emotions of the cast. Outdoor scenes tend to be well conceived.
Unfortunately, all that falls by the wayside because of flaws in relating the story accurately and well to its origins. Anyone familiar with the lives and work of Verlaine and Rimbaud can only cringe at the superficiality of this film. As many others have pointed out, scant attention is paid to verse, and then only in a language -- English -- that only approximates the original. It would have been a graceful beginning to make this film in France with French characters speaking French, then allowing the subtitles to fill in the gaps for non-French-speaking viewers.
What that conclusion implies, of course, is that the primary cast is wrong for this film. I really hate to say that, because DiCaprio and Thewlis are great actors doing the best they can to carry the film forward. Although I would have picked a different physical specimen for the role of Verlaine (for some odd reason the face of the late German director Fassbinder comes to mind), the choice of an androgyne for Rimbaud was physically right on target.
Finally, I am appalled at some of the comments here that betray a preoccupation with sex. "Zany" is the only word one can apply to subjective and even judgmental interpretations of this film about this or that scene or bit of action not in accord with a viewer's personal sexual expectations. My own view is that this was, if anything, a highly bowdlerized adaptation of reality.
In short, recast this in French, and focus more on the full text of Rimbaud's genius.
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