Let me put it to you this way: if you met a genius who said, sleep with
me and I will make you immortal, how much abuse would you take to play the
game? You could be the next Mona Lisa!
Or in other words, French women are in a terrible dilemma. Throw a rock,
hit a painter. Everywhere you turn, men want to paint you. What's the
psychological cost of a portrait? This is the story behind the new Merchant/Ivory
work, "Surviving Picasso," which offers a glimpse of how one woman
took what she could from Pablo and then got out while the going was good.
Her name was Françoise, and she was - and still is! - quite famous.
Among others. We see Pablo's rejects still wandering in the fantasy of
attachment to the great man.
If you're a feminist in the twilight of the 20th century, it's too weird
to watch. You say, what's wrong with French women? Or why didn't they
have a chat with Simone de Beauvoir before turning over their lives to Picasso?
(Of course, Simone had the same problem with Sartre, so we're back to square
one about French women...)
It's easy to praise this film for its intrinsic interest. It's beautiful
to look at it in the same way a Picasso is - cold, analytical, impatient
with tradition. And yet, you keep asking, when is someone going to tell
Pablo to get over himself? And you realize it doesn't happen - it only
gets worse. It's a foreshadowing of the Age of Celebrity we live in. But
the body count is forbidding. Picasso's assistant is also embroiled in
the myth of being part of the genius; his excuse: "If I were not here,
I would have to wait, like everybody else."
I liked the spark that Ivory gives Françoise - the way he lights
her life up with some ambition of her own as a painter. But there's no
way to like Picasso. Anthony Hopkins is an essentially likeable actor,
so his great challenge is to transform himself into an arrogant, irascible,
self-obsessed, cat-and-mouse machiavellian. And that's just the factual
In the best scene in the film, Picasso visits Matisse and is not exactly
humbled but, at least, aware that he's in the presence of somebody as great
as he is. Matisse is gentle, droll, indulgent of the hot little Spaniard
and toys with him a bit. But the scene reminds us of why we love Matisse:
his undulating, sexy humorous creations reflect the love the artist himself
invested in them. Picasso, on the other hand, destroys as he creates -
in fact, he turned it into an idiosyncratic Expressionism.
There exists a Picasso portrait of his last woman/wife, Jacqueline, holding
a portrait of herself and looking at it with apparent satisfaction. This
picture should be in the film - not to mention in the infamous Museum of
Modern Art exhibit of this year - because it goes a long way to explain
what we want from the artist and why we suffer them: to see ourselves as
genius sees us.