Contemporary World Cinema | 2017 | 102 minutes
Stranger Says: In a world that reprimands Isle of Dogs for having the temerity to have been set in Japan, it’s hard to imagine this mostly uncritical tale of Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian sojourn—which yielded genuinely startling paintings—passing muster with people who object to cultural tourism, racial fetishization, and ravenous sexual entitlement. Still, there is a much more immediate problem with the film: It’s about an ARTIST, if not, indeed, an artiste, and such films are almost always misbegotten. If you love, and I mean LOVE, Vincent Cassel, or you are a particular kind of romantic teenager, you might enjoy it, but if you only like him, or are an adult with some real understanding of how insufferable people like this pretentious, ungovernable creep can be, it’s not on. You may go once, but you won’t Gauguin.
SIFF Says:You can take the boy out of France, but you can’t take French 19th century hidebound morality out of the boy—even when that boy is Paul Gauguin, and even when he’s traveling to the other side of the globe to try to leave it behind for the sake of his art. Edouard Deluc’s biopic covers the painter’s (Vincent Cassel, BLACK SWAN) first sojourn (1891–93) in Tahiti, where his colorful canvasses of island scenes became his signature works and modernist landmarks in art history. At first, it’s just the paradise he sought: verdant hills, sparkling pools, welcoming natives, daily life of Edenic serenity (though while food may grow on trees, art supplies sure don’t). Gauguin falls in with a Tahitian woman, Tehura (Tuheï Adams), who after the briefest and simplest betrothal in cinema history becomes his muse—but is she later making eyes at the hunky dude who’s studying woodcarving with him? There’s a very grim humor to the way the last 15 minutes of the film replicates the first: Trapped in bourgeois domesticity with a dissatisfied wife and art that fails to sell (while conventionally unimaginative stuff flies off the shelf, or rather, out of the village market stall), escape is the only option.
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