Synopsis: Gustav Klimt lived his life like he painted it – full of intensity, sensuality and passion. In this biographical fantasy by acclaimed director Raul Ruiz (Time Regained), Klimt (John Malkovich) recalls the decadence of his past in feverish visions from his deathbed. Reflecting on his many torrid affairs and his struggles for artistic freedom, he travels back to the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. There, Klimt is introduced to a mysterious dancer, Lea De Castro (Saffron Burrows), who emerges as his muse and the personification of his own erotic ideals and carnal desires.
eyelights: the artistic choices made by the director. the beautiful nude models.
eyesores: the utterly incoherent storytelling. the substandard performances. the cheap-looking production.
I know very little about Gustav Klimt. Aside from a grotesque reference in ‘Back to School’, I have barely been exposed to his name. But I stumbled upon this biopic at the local second-hand CD/DVD shop and was intrigued by its promise of art and sex. John Malkovich was a slight draw, but I have mixed feeling about his smug on-screen presence. Still, I picked It up.
I soon discovered that the version that is available on home video in North America is a severely truncated version otherwise known as the “Producer’s Cut”. Originally released as a 130-minute motion picture, it now lurches about for merely 96 minutes – a third of its material now removed. Why it was hobbled this way is unclear, but it was a truly unwise decision.
The film purports to explore Klimt’s life in flashbacks, as the notorious artist lays dying of pneumonia in a Viennese sanitarium in 1918. He receives the visit from a young friend, after which we are transported back and forth through his adult life. There is narration from various undisclosed characters, but Klimt himself doesn’t recount his own tale, not even to his visitor.
Honestly, this version of the film is a right mess: characters aren’t properly introduced, scenes start and end abruptly, and confusing matters even more is the fact that Klimt has visions/hallucinations, exchanging with people who aren’t actually there. Although I’m sure there is a plot in there somewhere, I simply couldn’t make any sense of it. It felt like a pastiche of disjointed scenes to me.
To make matters worse, John Malkovich’s performance is soft, impotent. I have no idea if Klimt was this lame, but he wilted in each scene here. Having said that, it’s possible that the issue is with the director, as most performances were amateurish, unconvincing and/or unengaging. I spent the picture imagining Malkovich discontent with his counterparts and consequently not giving it his all.
I found the staging and camerawork rather unusual. I’m not saying that it’s adept or appropriate, but it was notable. For instance, there is a dinner sequence in which the participants are having a dialogue while the room spins behind them. I’ve seen this many times before in romantic scenes, but never in this context. Weird. It’s hard to know what it means or what the intention was.
Also notable was the score to the picture, which was SO melodramatic, SO over the top, that each scene thundered awkwardly, as though the music was competing with the picture itself, trying to draw attention away from the screen. Perhaps that was the intention, but it’s a weird choice to make, as the music is usually there to support the picture, not challenge it.
Honestly, there’s really not much to recommend in this version of ‘Klimt’ (although I would love to see the director’s full-length cut someday). It’s literally as bad as reviews make it out to be: it’s incoherent and it feels like a ramshackle low-budget cable movie. The many nude models were nice eye candy, however. Were they essential to the story? No. But it got me through.
Basically, I knew nothing about Gustav Klimt going in, and I knew very little going out – other than he contracted syphilis and had tons of illegitimate children. By any standard, the “Producer’s Cut” of ‘Klimt’ is an abject failure. It makes you wonder what the point was in the end. By severely hacking away at the original, even if it was also imperfect, no one ends up being satisfied.
Maybe not even the producer.
Date of viewing: August 13, 2014