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Pablo Picasso was avant-garde and traditional, a legend whose paintings almost everyone can visualize today. His works and character had an enormous influence on 20th century art.
Didier Baussy-Oulianoff’s extraordinarily vivid film was made in 1985, the same year that the Picasso Museum in Paris opened. The filmmaker enjoyed unprecedented access to their expansive and unique collection. As a consequence, we initially encounter Picasso’s paintings on their display racks, presumably before they were ever hung for display. Individual paintings are illuminated as and when the narrator speaks about them. This is inter-cut with footage of the artist’s native Andalusia, Picasso in his studio, and also visceral, sometimes disturbing, scenes from Spanish bullfights.
The iconography of the bull is central to the work of Picasso, as is the undercurrent of violence that Baussy-Oulianoff manifests through the bullfighting scenes. Born in Malaga in 1881, the artist was taken to see the Andalusian bullfights as a child and his first depictions of bulls were made when he was just 8 years old. Throughout his art Picasso would return to an obsession with “death, pain and animalistic violence” that the film never shies away from exploring. He often represents himself as a monster in his paintings, identified here as symptomatic of an extreme artistic honesty.
The film works through the artworks of Picasso in chronological order and discusses the forces that inspired them, whether in the personal life of the artist or in the wider world. In this way the film covers everything from the suicide of Picasso’s friend Casagemas in 1901, which began his “blue period”, to the Spanish Civil War that inspired his masterpiece, Guernica – “a settling of all debts”. This rigorously intelligent and highly rewarding film is a fine example of the art documentary genre.