… as Tahiti was once considered to be. His fellow artists and drinking buddies in Brittany used the subject expression to indicate his destination. After the first 15 minutes of this movie, in which Gauguin is in France, suddenly we see a haggard Gauguin painting in his hut, while it rained, in Tahiti. He would paint prolifically, and even obsessively, often on the make for blank canvas. Edouard Deluc directed this excellent film, which was released in 2018. Vincent Cassel does an admirable job of playing an often beat up man, Gauguin, while Tuhei Adams plays his muse, and paramour, Tehura.
Gauguin “went native” as it were, deciding to go up onto the plateau of the interior and live with people that, to me, were highly reminiscent of the tribal people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. No doubt because both were from the same Polynesian stock. By contemporary standards it was a crime that he would commit. But then it was a normal and customary practice. He was in his 40’s. Tehura’s mother offered him her 15-year-old daughter, with assurances that she could be returned if he was not completely satisfied. It worked, at least for a while, and he was obsessed with painting her.
He couldn’t make a buck, or a franc, or even a sou, it seemed. No one wanted his paintings. He also carved statues. There is a scene of Gauguin pathetically trying to hawk one of his carved wooden statues to the French colonials. Even a muse must eat. Gauguin is reduced to performing young men’s work, as a docker or longshoreman, unloading boats and carrying the goods on his back. The muse’s eyes wander to more contemporary men.
This movie is only a slice of his life. The first 20 minutes or so show his life with his European family of many kids and his relationship with the French artists in Brittany. The rest of the movie was the 3-4-year period he was in Tahiti with Tehura, 1890-93. It ends when he is repatriated to France as a pauper. It does not show his extensive relationship with Vincent van Gogh before he went to Tahiti. It also does not show his return to French Polynesia, to the even more distant end of the world, the Marquesas, which are 900 miles from Tahiti. He would die there in 1903, a poor, broken man. Also not shown is Picasso “discovering” him in 1906 and being heavily influenced by him. Picasso’s famous “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” completed in 1907, is directly attributed to Gauguin’s influence.
The composition of the scenes in this film is so impressive. Again and again, the scenes are as well done as a painting, with the attention to the light, the framing, the depth of field, et al. I wondered how many “takes” it took to get it just right. It is brilliant cinematography.
Gauguin, a troubled man whose genius was not recognized in his lifetime has left an impressive legacy for all humankind: a new way of seeing. For Deluc’s vision of that slice of Gauguin’s life, 5-stars, plus.