Thursday, November 19, 2020

THE ADVENTURERS OF MODERN ART: the 2015 style- and genre-melding French TV series

As co-directed by Amélie Harrault, Pauline Gaillard and Valérie Loiseleux, with writing credited to Dan Franck, this unusual French television series from 2015-- six epiosdes, each one around 52 minutes in length -- tells the stories of some of the most famous figures of modern art, more from the angle of their lives (expecially their love lives) rather than via their art -- though that art is present and clearly important. In THE ADVENTURERS OF MODERN ART (Les aventuriers de l'art moderne), we meet everyone from Matisse, Picasso and Braque to Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob (that last name perhaps the least know but among the most interesting characters in the series). 

What's most unusual about this series is that it is -- to a surprising extent, at least -- animated. And though that seems to be what most sets it apart from other film and television about art and artists, that animation -- unless TrustMovies' calculations are way off base -- is much less seen than is the footage devoted to the use of archival film documentary (and narrative film, too!). Occasionally the animation is even placed atop this archival footage.

This is probably a good thing, since that animation, though perfectly acceptable, seems to my eyes nothing all that special. It simply recreates scenes that, in other hybrid documentaries these days, would have been "enacted," using a cast of assembled performers to play the various roles. Further, the archival footage is particularly well chosen: often pointed, amusing, and seeming almost perfectly of its time and place.

Picasso (above), whatever you might think of his art, is presented as pretty much the asshole of a human being that he was. Many, if not most, males were exactly that back then (oh, right -- now, as well), but this guy managed to outdo them all. (The filmmakers seem particularly taken with the artist's eyes -- which we view in close up, animated or archival, over and over again.) 

While the series can be repetitive, it is also filled with so many little-known facts and/or speculations that one's interest rarely flags. And if Picasso earns little empathy, other folk like Apollinaire and Jacob (the also-ran among these artists, poets and cultural figures) earn our appreciation and caring in surprising ways.

The three episodes I've finished so far -- Bohemia: 1900-1906, Picasso and His Gang: 1906-1916, and Paris Capital of the World: 1916-1920 -- take us historically, artistically, culturally and especially love-life-wise into the lives of these artists and the places (from France to Spain to Germany and back) where they lived and worked. 

The series has a very nice build. It may take you some time to warm up to the animation (not so much to the archival stuff) and to these artists themselves, but once you're hooked, I suspect you'll stick with it and warm to it even more. We get Modigliani and Braque and poor, poor Soutine; World War I, the Spanish Flu, and Kiki of Montparnasse; and events of which I've only just now learned, such as Parade, the artistic collaboration of Erik Satie, Cocteau and Picasso -- which was not well-received upon its premiere but, still, must have been quite something to see and hear.  

As I say, I've only finished three of the six episodes but I'll be back for more. From Icarus Home Video, the series hit the street on DVD and streaming last week and is available now for purchase and/or rental).