serious movie lovers, last weekend is almost like a banquet. Every new
course is a treat, the disturbing 'Happiness' (which is running into a
second week ---- hurrah), the long awaited Italian import 'Life is Beautiful'
(even though it is being criticized for trivializing holocaust in the
most recent issue of Time magazine, the movie is nevertheless worth a
look), and the re-release of Fellini's 'Nights of Cabiria'. Unfortunately
this momentum takes a drastic downturn this week. As soon as I checked
Scene's movieclock, I knew that it is going to be the most boring weekend
in the last couple of weeks. There is nothing there unless you are fanatically
crazy about Brad Pitt. 'Meet Joe Black' is simply not my type of movie.
Fortunately a new movie coming out on videotape last Wednesday added some
most needed flavor to this otherwise bland weekend. It has all the ingredients
that are able to whet my appetite. It is French; it is biographical; it
is about art and painting. Plus it is almost notorious for its sex scenes
(very erotic and very beautiful. The movie barely passes R rating. In
fact it was originally rated NC-17 and was rerated R only after appeal).
Its name is 'Artemisia'.
Gentileschi (1593-1652), the leading character of the movie, is the daughter
of a famous Italian painter, Orazio Gentileschi. Artemisia exhibits her
strong interests and outstanding talent in painting at a young age. So
we see her surreptitiously painting herself nude from a mirror while she
was studying in a monastery. And we hear her father remark not without
admiration, 'She is definitely a painter's daughter' when the nuns report
her heinous crime to Orazio. After she left the monastery, she starts
to work with her father in his studio. Unfortunately 17th century Europe
is no place for a woman artist, no matter how talented she is. No art
academy would accept her as a student simply because she is female. And
the law forbids female to paint male in nude. Even her understanding father
has to draw a line there. Then comes the third major character of the
story, Agostino Tassi, a nontraditional painter, who happens to work with
Orazio on a fresco under papal commission. At Orazio's insistence, Tassi
accepts Artemisia as his pupil. The burgeoning relationship follows a
not unpredictable path: they fall in love; they make love; and Artemisia
reaches one of the pinnacles of her art career ---- 'Judith Slaying Holofernes'.
The movie takes a surprising turn when Orazio finds out about his daughter's
escapade. He accuses Tassi of raping Artemisia and takes him to court
in order to force him into a marriage with Artemisia. What Orazio doesn't
expect is that during the trial it is found out that Tassi is still legally
married to a Florentine woman and has also been keeping a incestuous relationship
with his sister-in-law. Artemisia is devastated...
is clear that 'Artemisia' is about art, sex, and betrayal. But to me it
goes far beyond these Hollywoodish cliché (After all it is a French movie).
In the very soul of it, it is a story of freedom. In laymen's eyes, most
artists carry a fairly promiscuous private life. They not only make art
out of their gorgeous models but also make love to them. They have tons
of mistresses and marriage to them hardly puts a full stop to their sexual
extravaganza. 'But they are artists,' most people would shrug their shoulders.
Yes, this offhanded comment almost hits the target. It is about art. But
more importantly it is about freedom. Not a single piece of masterpiece
in art history comes with bondage. Neither does great sexual love. Making
art and making love, two seemingly unrelated concepts, share at least
one attribute: your soul has to be inflamed; the dazzling flames should
be able to dance; a dance no one can and should quench; and you let yourself
go; and you flap your wings; and you are high up; and you are flying like
a bird; nothing, nothing can stop you, your imagination, and your soul,
not even Orazio. Tassi not only sets Artemisia's sex free but also her
soul. And as soon as the bird is out of cage, she is bound to fly higher
and higher. Here goes the climax, the orgasm of sex and also that of art
('Judith Slaying Holofernes' remains one of the greatest works in western
is directed by Agnes Merlet. The movie was nominated the best foreign
language film in this year's Golden Globes Award. You can find the movie
at Tower Records' new release section.
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