Trashy History: Our Review of ‘Gauguin’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 16, 2018
Trashy History: Our Review of ‘Gauguin’

There’s a version of Paul Gauguin, the French painter, who exists through legitimate teaching and through personal sleuthing. And there’s the other version. The overtly sympathetic, laughable version of him. Gauguin slightly veers towards the latter, unfortunately. It shows him (Vincent Cassel) as someone more popular in the art world than he is to buyers. His friends and him meet at a bar, sending him off to Tahiti, away from the moral hypocrisies of France. Supporters of him, who include his descendants, have exercised in some mental gymnastics as to what this is. What this is is a grown man going to the colonies to ‘find himself’.

But fine, let’s indulge this fantasy. Gauguin only dedicates more than ten minutes to Gauguin’s home country, France. It then uses the rest of its running time to show him exploring Tahiti, sometimes on horseback. There’s literally no aesthetic difference between the drab, smoky, Parisian bars and the rainy forests of Tahiti. There are moments of greenery but director both stole those shots from better movies and they’re few and far between. It’s a feat to have a biopic to be this joyless and be without levity. It should list that as one of its accomplishments, if you can call it that.

Part of the reason, as one can guess, that this movie isn’t good is because its subject is human trash. It’s going to be difficult to justify the actions of such an unsympathetic person. Despite being destitute, Gauguin still takes on an underage Tahitian bride, Tehura (Tuhei Adams). This fictionalized version of her garners mixed results. She’s intuitive, intelligent, and takes an interest in his work. She eventually becomes his model and muse, which she ‘likes’. Adams is three years older than when the real Gauguin married Tehura. Casting a slightly older actress in that character somehow pardons the age difference between their real life counterparts.

Another central relationship is the one between Gauguin and his doctor, Henri Vallin (Malik Zidi). Vallin starts out a strict person who wants Gauguin to return to France. Eventually he pours out drinks for the latter as they joke around on the beach. Their conversations are about how the former justifies his stay in Tahiti. He still has faith in his art, and it’s nice, admittedly, to have someone pulling for him. Despite receiving mixed reviews in his lifetime, he made a name for himself, influencing a generation of post-impressionist artists. But this film fudges some established facts about him, making for an uncomfortable viewing.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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