Art Cinema: Painters on Screen

Montparnasse 19

Les Amants de Montparnasse

Jacques BeckerFrance / Italy108 minutes1958PGB&WFrench

May 12
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    "A delight to watch ... A quiet masterpiece which ultimately soars to sublimity" (Andrew Sarris), this biography of Italian-born artist Amedeo Modigliani (subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern this year) was originally to be directed by Max Ophüls, who died before the film could be made; Jacques Becker subsequently employed the same script but to different ends, creating a film that is considerably more restrained than the version one could imagine from the extravagant Ophüls. The film chronicles the last days of the alcoholic, tubercular Modigliani (Gérard Philippe), and charts his relationships with three women: a masochistic British journalist (Lilli Palmer), a kindly bistro owner (Lea Padovani), and a beautiful innocent (Anouk Aimée) who models for some of his most famous paintings. Philippe plays the doomed artist with brooding intensity, and is matched by the trio of actresses who act as his paramours. In a famous review, Jean-Luc Godard declared "Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanations to those who watch."