Sunday, March 29, 2020

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A MADMAN

February 23, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

After the feelgoodiness of My Salinger Year, which opened the 70th edition of the Berlin Film Festival out of competition last week, the festival has now screened an unadulterated art film, Volevo nascondermi, — beautiful, magnificently acted, and as impressionistic and confusing as its subject, the Swiss/Italian artist Antonio Ligabue. You say you have never heard of Ligabue? Well, the cognoscenti of the art world certainly have, and in fact this is the second film biography about him. This one constitutes a collage of scenes about Ligabue’s life, with little or no conventional narrative. We are offered only glimpses of his horrendous childhood in which he is taunted, bullied, ridiculed and, literally driven mad, finally escaping to a feral existence as an adult until his paintings — they are described as “naïve” in the language of the art world, meaning they are the work of an unschooled creator –receive some unexpected admiration from noted artists and critics. Exhibitions of his paintings, which follow, bring him fame and wealth but clearly not mental health. He spends his money on motorcycles and cars, and when he attempts to woo a woman he has painted, her mother drives him away. All of this is told in disconnected flashes. We are allowed only glimpses of Ligabue’s paintings — and perhaps for good reason; the lay beholder may well wonder what all the to-do over his work was all about.

Ligabue Painting

Reviews of the film at the Berlinale have been mixed. Debora Young in the Hollywood Reporter described it as “ambitious and impressive” and gave high praise to actor Elio Germano, who stars as Ligabue. “Germano,” she wrote, “is an extremely extroverted actor who bides his time brooding in the artist’s pent-up psyche until he can explode in violent grief or rage, and these are the scenes that characterize his portrait of the artist on the fringes.” But Jay Weissberg in Variety suggested that Germano’s portrait may be drawn too prominently, so that the film becomes “more a record of a performance than a satisfying cinema experience.” Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian predicted that Germano will surely be among the candidates for the festival’s best-actor award. As for the film itself, he wrote, it “is like eating a rich and heavy meal, which is delicious a lot of the time.” But, for many, it may be hard to digest.