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Artemisia: Valentina Cervi
Orazio: Michel Serrault
Agostino: Miki Manojlovic
Cosimo: Luca Zingaretti
Costanza: Emmannuelle Devos
Written and directed by Agnes Merlet


For 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'.

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...

It 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 art history).

'Artemisia' 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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