Another night, another plea by my good lady to choose the evening’s viewing. She used the age-old trick of offering two dire alternatives (one being Coco before Chanel (2009), which I know was there to cut the field down). The only viable alternative was Modigliani (2004), starring – by lucky hap – the guy for whom she goes all gooey, Andy Garcia. Talk about agendas.
Spousal chicanery aside, I would have probably watched it eventually – although I have to admit that it wasn’t high on the list. If I were pushed into a corner, I could not give a definitive yes-or-no answer as to whether I liked it or not. I will attempt to pin down the reasons why I did or didn’t enjoy it if you will indulge me.
The main issue I had was the casting and the performances. They were, almost to a man, fantastic. Garcia’s lead, Elsa Zylberstein as his muse, lover and mother of his child Jeanne Hébuterne and a barely recognizable Omid Djalili as Pablo Picasso were – while not faultless – very, very solid and believable indeed. Even the casting of Garcia as a man who was some twenty years his junior in real life made little difference, as everyone handled the script to the very best of their ability. Peter Capaldi, Eva Herzigova and Miriam Margolyes all provide solid and competent support.
The script…ah, the script. Despite the glowing tributes I just heaped upon the actors, I fear I cannot do the same for the script, penned by director Mick Davis. As a director, he knows how to set mood and to squeeze empathy out of scenes other directors would stumble over. The way the whole thing hangs together visually shows he knows exactly what he’s doing on the set, and all due respect should be shown for that. His screenwriting skills, however, stand out for a very different reason. I think the word ‘clunky’ would best do it justice. The script was poorly paced, badly constructed and over-long, weighing in at around two hours. Had it been tightened up, I think a fair effort could have been made bringing it under 90 minutes and cutting out a lot of the chaff, including some lengthy and unnecessary monologues and scene-setting parole.
My chief problem – and I will admit to being a bit of a stickler for this – was the soundtrack. Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose featured, probably just to add Parisian flavour. Even though the song is fantastic, it didn’t fit in the mood of what was displayed on the screen. The rest of the soundtrack is a horrible mish-mash of airy strings, pseudo-classical pieces and some poorly executed ‘modern’ stuff that sounded like sub-par trip-hop. Just awful.
If you want to see a relatively true-to-life tragedy about a painter, his muse and his on-off rivalry with Picasso, I recommend you watch it muted and read every other subtitle. Otherwise, you’re in for a long evening.