24 July 2010 | gradyharp
KLIMT: An Evocation of a Time, not a Biography
KLIMT:A Viennese Fantasy à la manière de Schnitzler is a controversial film, a montage of the elements of the art world and the sociopsychological tenor of the times of the infamous fin de siècle in Europe, a period greatly influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud, thee novels and 'performances' of Arthur Schnitzler that focused on the emergence of the new views of sexuality. Being about the rise of sensualism in art and the subsequent Jugenstil (Art Nouveau) and Vienna Secessionist movement, writer director Raúl Ruiz (with aid from Herbert Vesely and Gilbert Adair) has painted a larger than life canvas of this fascinating period in art and in history in general and happens to populate it with significant character from the period. No, the film is not based on hard facts and yes, there are inconsistencies throughout. But that is of less importance than the allure of the period that very successfully comes through this film using the magic of light and the fluidity of the camera.
Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) was a strange artist, a man who believed in a sensualist artificial religion and an artist who favored erotic imagery in his canvases. He was controversial in his time, yet today his paintings using gold leaf and silver leaf and design patterns of expression that defined Art Nouveau sell for many millions of dollars: his style is still imitated and he is still celebrated as the father of erotic art. The film opens and closes with Klimt (John Malkovich) submerged in healing waters in a rather stark hospital, attended by a nurse and his disciple, the equally sensational Egon Schiele (Nicolai Kinski, keeping his hands in the spread-finger style Schiele painted so often!). From this point bits and pieces of Klimt's bizarre life are explored, at times explained through imaginary conversations with his secretary (Stephen Dillane). His marriage, his 'affair' - or is it simply a manifestation of the influence of a muse? - with Lea de Castro (Saffron Burrows), his self indulgence in all things erotic (he is said to have has many affairs with Viennese women yielding a large number of children who bear his genetic puzzle), and his conflict with the Academy of Art, a sense of disgust with the current oeuvre of painting as sterile, and his prodigious output of paintings and drawing of the female nude - all are depicted with tremendous imagination here. The cinematography is as strange as the story it captures, using falling snowflakes in one scene to suggest the falling pieces of Klimt's gold leaf enhancement of his most famous works in others.
The dialogue is at times raw and at other times superficial and the audience is begged to indulge in the fantasy that is being recreated. But the film stands well as an example of an art history period and John Malkovich makes a credible Klimt. This is more a film for art students and art lovers who are eager to explore the beginnings of Art Nouveau than a film for audiences eager for accurate biography.