Most of us know who Pablo Picasso is. He’s interdisciplinary artist, he borrowed cubism from Africa. He then started a movement featuring artists that, in some people’s opinion, bested him. And in 1956, he starred in Le Mystère Picasso with Henri-Georges Clouzot. Here he barrels through painting beautiful works of art. The main mystery is what he’s gonna show his audience. Several pieces in the documentary comprise this low stakes mystery. There’s a piece, for instance, that could end up looking like a sailboat or a hill. This is reminiscent of that abstract scene in Fantasia but it’s revolutionary in its own right.
Cinema shows us extant forms that are mostly human and undergo internal evolution. The physical forms we see here are more nebulous, becoming clearer as Picasso adds more detail to them. Picasso uses different aesthetics that he used towards his career, making the forms he’s painting physically evolve and transfigure.
This movie is a retrospective, in some ways, and the best Pictionary game in others. Picasso uses colour and black and white. In one image he draws a naked woman only to eventually clothe her. There’s also the Spanish influence in his art that lets him remind us of his origins. We get to see a share of matadors wearing bolero jackets. Or women wearing something inspired by those kinds of fashions. There’s something risky here. I imagine most artists planning what’s going on their canvas. However there’s something spontaneously nice about him doodling his way into one of these ephemeral masterpieces. And by not planning, it’s as if he’s acknowledging human imperfection in art.
Like most art forms, visual art seems like a closed entity to us. We can’t paint over a canvas in the same way re-editing or remaking a film ruins the original. However, while watching Picasso tinkering with his artworks he deconstructs that notion. There’s also a playfulness here, as if saying that not all rebellions have to be violent. We also see Picasso playing around with his canvases while listening to Georges Auric’s score. The score is magnificently diverse, going from the pas de deux of Baroque and flamenco music. But we mostly hear the full bodied orchestral pieces that we normally get in musicals. The juxtaposition between Picasso’s sometimes bare canvases and Auric’s big pieces work well. Clouzot’s Le Mystère Picasso kicks off a series but this one’s gonna be hard to top.
Art Cinema: Painters On Film runs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until May 22nd.