Another saga of an artist’s martyrdom has made it to the screen. The latest offering is “Modigliani”, a hymn to the seductive suffering soul who painted, and loved, women, smoked hashish and died young among his artist peers in Paris. Once as prominent in art lore as Vincent van Gogh’s anguish, the artist maudit myth has since been eclipsed, in life and on film, by the martyrdoms of Jackson Pollock, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo.
Now director Mick Davis has exhumed the tale, with Andy Garcia as the charmer from Livorno and Elsa Zylberstein as Jeanne Hebuterne, the oft-painted mother of his child.
In the bohemian Montparnasse that was recreated in Romania for the $15 million English-language film, actors playing Picasso, Utrillo and Chaim Soutine smoke, imbibe absinthe and watch mimes slink by. At the story’s centre is Modigliani’s supposed rivalry with Picasso, whom he taunts with lines like, “Pablo, how do you make love to a cube?”
Paris here is in its drunken Jazz Age, not the lean war years when Modigliani was at his most active, and Andy Garcia is far too robust to be convincing as the tubercular soul who drew and painted because he was too weak for his first love, chiselling stone. The design of the film has an overwrought nostalgia, and it stumbles in trying to recreate its characters by trying too hard to replicate well-known photographs from the period. Yet Modigliani’s works look convincing on the screen—copied, just as they have been since 1919, when his early death turned him into a myth.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Modigliani dies again'