17 April 2012 | robert-temple
Marvellous biographical film about Paul Gauguin
This film, set in the mid-1890s in France, is an excellent drama based upon Gauguin's return from Tahiti with a wagon load of canvasses which no one can understand and few will buy. There appear to be three language versions, French, English, and Danish. Guess which I chose. This film is so good that it is a great pity that it is little known outside Denmark, and on the DVD box (I got it from German Amazon) it says 'only for sale in Denmark'. Frankly, I only discovered by chance that the film existed, because I was curious about the early career of Sofie Grabol, having seen her in THE KILLING (see my review). This was her first film. She was 17 when she made it, successfully playing a girl of 14 with big innocent eyes. Gauguin takes a studio next door to the studio occupied by William Molard, and Grabol plays his daughter Judith Molard, who falls hopelessly in love with Gauguin, but he only treats her like a daughter. Grabol is marvellous, and shows her great acting talent already as a teenager. Paul Gauguin is played by Donald Sutherland, and it is certainly the best performance of his which I have ever seen. He has complete command of and understanding of the character, and carries it off brilliantly. And that ain't easy! The film is really wonderful, beautifully directed, with excellent art direction and cinematography. The screenplay third draft was written by Christopher Hampton, which must have helped a lot. The film was produced and directed by Henning Carlsen, who since the death of Carl Dreyer has been the leading Danish film director. Back in 1966, he electrified the world with his stunning film of Knut Hamsun's harrowing autobiographical novel HUNGER (SULT in Norwegian), starring Per Oscarsson as Hamsun. (I was once taken to the actual flat in a run down area of Oslo where Hamsun lived when he was starving, as related in this story, by Kjell Wik, who was a Hamsun expert. Nothing like seeing where it all really happened!) In 1995, nine years after OVIRI, Carlsen filmed Hamsun's PAN with Sofie Grabol, in her second film, playing Edvarda Mack (see my review to come). From this you may gather I have always been a Hamsun admirer. Why would the Danes be interested in Gauguin? It is because his wife was Danish. Indeed, my wife and I have a self-portrait by Gauguin's brother-in-law, Frits Thaulow, a Norwegian who married the younger sister of Gauguin's wife. In OVIRI, Max von Sydow plays August Strindberg, who becomes acquainted with Gauguin during this time through the Molards. As one might expect, von Sydow is brilliant as usual. He and Gauguin have interesting discussions. Edgar Degas appears in the film, played by Yves Barsacq, but he just pops in from time to time to buy one of Gauguin's paintings, and is gone in a flash, without talking to anyone. Strange, but presumably this is accurate (?). The film shows Gauguin visiting Copenhagen to ask his wife for money, but I believe this is fictionalised, and that there was no such visit. Certainly it is true that they were bitterly estranged, and this is shown very well. The replicas of Gauguin and van Gogh paintings used in the film are very good quality indeed, and most convincing. All of the cast are excellent, and this is a truly superb film about Gauguin, which should be seen by anyone interested in art history or the lives of artists, or for that matter, by anyone who just wants to see a powerful drama about a great artist who refuses to conform and goes his own way.