Published on www.newyorkcool.com
Opens July 1st in New York
Reviewed by Christina M. Hinke
New York Cool
Artists of the early 20th Century, Picasso, Cocteau, Utrillo, Soutine, Rivera and of course the mad Modigliani (Andy Garcia) are all together in the biopic, simply titled Modigliani, but the true genius of the film is Elsa Zylberstein playing Modigliani’s muse Jeanne Hebuterne. She electrifies the screen and sweeps the movie from underneath Andy Garcia’s feet. An emerging French actress, Elsa Zylberstein (Metroland, Mina Tannenbaum), plays Jeanne with emotional eloquence. On the eve of Modigliani death, she appears, as if a ghost, her life drained out of her due to her lover’s fatality, to say one last breath of eternity to Pablo Picasso – “as you lay there on your death bed…you will see the face of Modigliani…he will be all that you wish you were,” she hauntingly says. She evokes such power and beauty you almost believe she is the real Jeanne.
The film tells of Amedeo Modigliani’s last year of life. Known as Modi to his friends (rhymes with the French word maudit or accursed in English) he spends his time with drink, drugs, his canvas and mocking Pablo Picasso. As rivals, Paris waits with baited breath for the two to compete in Paris’ yearly art competition Salon Des Artistes. As self-titled geniuses, neither will enter the contest. One artist even eats the flyer saying “hmm steak rare”. Yet, it brings 5,000 Francs to the winner.
Modi is in great despair with no money and (living like the true bohemian he was) is greatly ashamed of his poor living conditions when all his friends live well. Wanting to care for his and Jeanne’s baby he signs up for the competition – #6 on the list, with Pablo dramatically signing as #7 – the last. Off the great painters go to their studios in a mad frenzy of frustration, exhilaration and exhaustion, dripping with sweat and covered in their acrylics or oils, painting their muses and souls on canvas. The climax is the unveiling of the masters’ works. The score is perfectly attuned to the dramatics of the scene the tempo quickening and the volume rising with the intensity of the night. A flood of diverse emotions overwhelms the ears with sadness, happiness, defeat and conquest so much so it makes you want to jump out of your seat and into the screen to join the party.
Partly produced by Garcia’s production company Cineson, Garcia cast himself as the lead – Modigliani, an Italian Sephardic Jew. Garcia does a passable job at playing the crazy Italian painter, portraying the passionate, maniacal artist with spirit, but at other times he is just over-the-top and appears silly. Pablo Picasso is shown as an arrogant genius and solidly acted by Omid Djalili (The Mummy; Gladiator). He trots around with boastfulness and exuberance making you like him and hate him at the same time. His first wife and muse Olga is miscast by the model Eva Herzigova who has a not-meant-to-be comedic accent (likened to Frau Farbissina of Austin Powers), though she mostly stands and looks pretty, such an icon of muses should have been cast by a more experienced actor. Cameo appearances of Gertrude Stein (Miriam Margolyes) and Renoir lend some humor to the movie.
At 128 minutes the film could have been edited down. Some scenes confuse the audience or just don’t add much to the plot (the dream-like sequences are just incoherent). If Mick Davis, writer and director, could have only seen that Jeanne’s story was the money-maker, the account could be powerfully told through Jeanne’s voice. We see both Jeanne’s view of Modigliani and Modi’s view of himself and the seesaw effect makes it hard to grab on to.
The script has Modigliani’s first solo exhibition happening in 1919, yet it was really 1917. It added heat to Pablo’s and Modi’s animosity, for him to finally have his own show when Picasso enjoys his 10th, but one doubts the veracity of the script.
Watching Jeanne brought to life by Elsa Zylberstein in a moving performance is why you should see this film. If only it were her film.
Rated R 128 minutes
© Copyright Christina M. Hinke 2005. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.