(Mongrel, 2006) D: Raoul Ruiz, w/ John Malkovich, Veronica Ferres, Saffron Burrows. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
In his day (1862-1918) Austrian painter Gustav Klimt was hugely successful, honoured and controversial for his erotic nudes. A symbolist and art nouveau stylist, he’s best known in the wider world for The Kiss, which has been endlessly reproduced. In 2006, his Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I sold at auction for $135 million.
Raoul Ruiz isn’t interested in the standard biopic, and John Malkovich says flat out that he doesn’t do them. Instead, they give us a lightweight atmosphere piece that they call a fantasy on Klimt’s life. It covers his last 18 years, from success in Paris to death in a Vienna clinic, and focuses on his ongoing love affair with Emilie Flöge (Veronica Ferres) and his fascination with exotic dancer Lea di Castro (Saffron Burrows).
Ruiz captures the spirit of Klimt’s work with occasionally giddy camera work and highly erotic images filled with beautiful women (often nude), floating gold flecks and fabulous costumes and sets. He finds drollery in the Viennese art world, whose polite venom extends to a formal cake in the face and whose pleasures include a brothel where all the whores wear false moustaches and the customers pay to be caged wearing gorilla masks.
Malkovich strolls through the sumptuousness as a man only slightly out of step with his fellows, letting us see that while he can do the artifice with the best of them, he has no real commitment to it. He’s more interested in his work, his women and the ever-fascinating world around him. It’s a quiet performance that portrays an artist who’s far more fulfilled than tormented.
EXTRAS Making-of doc. Widescreen. French subtitles.