A Paixão de JL (2015)

  |  Documentary

A Paixão de JL (2015) Poster

In January 1990, artist José Leonilson starts registering an intimate journal.However, J.L. suffers the unexpected blow of the discovery that he himself is HIV positive.


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Carlos Nader


Carlos Nader (screenplay)

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16 July 2019 | Rodrigo_Amaro
| The fascinating portrait of an artist
A mindblowing and unique portrait by an artist conceived by the artist himself though rescued years after his death, "A Paixão de JL" ("The Passion of JL") reveals the inner thoughts, feelings, loves and fears of plastic artist José Leonilson (1957-1993), presented through audio tapes he decided to record after 1990 as a testimony of his life, work and his battle against AIDS, a disease that claimed his life at an early age. It's a challenge to many viewers since you don't get to see the man (except for two minor and obscure archive images) so you have to imagine who he has by listening to his tapes. In between his audios the film presents his paintings, memorable works and clips from movies he described on the tapes, films that moved him or inspired his work through many emotions; and TV archives that reflected the period he was living. Carlos Nader's documentary is a brilliant piece of art that doesn't answer much about the artist but makes you feel curious about the man, his desires and his thought process whether working or living his life with passion, some self-pity and some tenacity.

Leonilson (as he was known) was part of the 1980's art generation of young artists who domianted the scene with their paintings or another plastic works breaking the conventional rules of previous decades, leaving their mark and conquering admirers on the way; and he managed to be the greatest figure of the period. His tapes which covers in betwen 1990-1993 presents the man, his inner self and how world and/or personal events shaped his artistic works - it can go from personal memories revolving around himself or some guy he loved, or the on-going world conflicts such as the Gulf War, or even his condition as an HIV positive individual which marked his final works after his diagnosis in 1991, with paintings that seemed to reflect a social/political agenda (as evidenced in a work where he painted several cups and each of them had a title of social/sexual variations of people that weren't part of the social chain of status quo and suffered some form of prejudice (homosexuals, natives, blacks, jews and others), but he identified with all of those groups.

In between his recordings there's images of his works from all periods, and archive footage from movies and clips he saw at the time and his opinions on those works and how they affected his life, his work and his world view (the highpoint is when he talks about "Paris, Texas" where he compares himself to the lead character both being wanderers in life who walk miles and miles trying to find their way in the world). Leonilson presents himself as being a man devoted to art, filled with life, confidence and passion at the same time he was vulnerable, at times insecure, completely open about his sexuality or his desire of having a companion but failing to succeed it fully; and quite contradictory as well (that's a difficult to explain since he mentions about his fears of going into a sexual relation due to disease, almost as if saying he never had one or perhaps people's prejudice - have in mind the period he was living - yet like many great people of that time he died from the plague. As evidenced by the documentary "Leonilson, sob o Peso dos Meus Amores" he had the tendency of creating an athmosphere, a character to present himself as sufferer or rejected at times but that wasn't necessarily the case. He was a lot more than the tender suffering soul. He wasn't a loner, he had great friends, lots of company and loves. But that doesn't matter...his work is what stays on.

By not presenting images of the man, Nader makes of Leonilson a more enigmatic and interesting character than we suppose he is. During his audio diaries, I felt really connected with the man and the artist, his world and personal views were so similar to mine in many aspects that I was deeply sad he's no longer with us anymore - here's a guy you'd like to know personally to share ideas, to admire and create art together if possible. Gotta admit, I fell in love with him. And you can see when he speaks about everything, either art, the guys he met, or his disease that he always have the right emotion either nostalgic for seeing Madonna's video or angry because he got scabies from an unknown individual (his reference to Shakespeare on that moment was priceless). Most of his final paintings and/or other plastic works reflect what he was living. One of his final works consists of two white shirts over a chair with different sizes, one huge, almost floating on the chair and other more tight to the chair, a sign that gives a notion about AIDS devastating effects.

A mix of emotions, sensations, feelings and inspiration, "A Paixão de JL" is a must-see documentary not because of the man and the artist, but also as a testimony of an era that was blessed to be open to arts at the same time it was too closed for certain human interactions. And to understand Leonilson's work is a great to know and find the man, his life, passion, inner conflicts and desires. It's all there in every trace, every line, every word he put it on the canvas. His images echo the reality, so with art he gets back at us to reach and understand what was life in 1980's-1990's and others that present the world as it ever was, is and possible will be. 10/10

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Release Date:

3 December 2015



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