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Modigliani: see Paris and die

  8 
Starring Andy Garcia and directed by Mick Davis, the 2004 feature film Modigliani begins with a lengthy screen of text. It explains in detail that the shown characters, events and pictures have nothing to do with reality. This is the first time the viewer wonders why the film is declared biographical. This question will come to your mind more and more often, especially if you are unlucky enough to be an art fan, who is a bit aware about the events and artists about which the movie tells.
Paris, 1919. Artists gather in a café in Montmartre, including Diego Rivera, Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani himself. The latter behaves like a rock star: his enchanting appearance is accompanied by a performance with poetic recitation, during which the audience repeats each line after him in chorus, and ends with a deliberately theatrical skirmish with Picasso.
A still from the Modigliani movie
From the very first minutes of the film, you feel shame for literally everything: for lifeless and flat dialogues, nullifying all the initial data of generally good artists. Awkward stories from the life of artists that have little to do with reality. Uninspired behavioural clichés and a lot, a lot of cheap drama, which makes it incomprehensible by the end whether to cry or laugh.
A still from the Modigliani movie
The casting of actors for the main roles is also amazing. 34-year-old terminally ill Modigliani is played by literally too heavy 47-year-old Andy Garcia. He tries his best to portray the ease of the artist’s glide through his life or dances around the monument to Honoré de Balzac, but you can’t but notice the great difficulty in his play. His beloved, 19-year-old Jeanne Hébuterne, whose parents vehemently opposed their daughter’s relationship with an Italian Jew, is played by a 36-year-old actress named Elsa Zylberstein. A fit and courageous Spaniard heartthrob, Picasso is portrayed by Omid Jalili, an overweight actor of Iranian-British origin.
A still from the Modigliani movie
Since there is only a couple of paragraphs of reliable information about the last years of Modigliani’s life, the director and screenwriter had to invent most of the events in order to stretch them into a two-hour film. This is how the comical feud between Modigliani and Picasso appeared, which they interrupt for a short visit to Renoir. The rest of the screen time, Amedeo avoids communication with his beloved Jeanne in every possible way, drinks, smokes hashish and opium, and also communicates with his invisible alter ego — himself in childhood. The author also found the real cause of Modigliani’s death from a serious illness too commonplace, so he came up with a more colourful, but senseless and stupid ending for him.
A still from the Modigliani movie
One of the major drawbacks of the film is that we learn extremely little about Modigliani the artist from it. It seems that this aspect did not really interest the creators, in contrast to the dramatic and melodramatic details oversaturating the movie. Jeanne mostly suffers and screams, Amedeo gets drunk and rages on, his confrontation with Picasso looks unnaturally strained, other artists generally look like silent extras: few of them got at least a line of text. Gertrude Stein was also unlucky — the patroness of the arts was assigned an almost parody character.
A still from the Modigliani movie
The few advantages of the film include camera work: beautifully arranged frames, talented play of light and shadow allow you to watch it in spite of everything. But this was not enough to save the venture: the movie failed miserably at the box office, not having recouped even a fifth of the funds spent on it.