Movie Magazine International


France - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Gloria Steinem hates the film "Artemisia." She hates it so much that at the L.A. premier she personally handed out flyers detailing why she hated it. In a nutshell, this is the gripe. The film, about renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi may not be historically accurate in its particulars about Artemisia's relationship with fellow artist, Agostino Tassi.

I don't pretend to be an historian so I'm in no position to judge if Steinam has a case. I do know this, though. Shakespeare's take on Richard III was based on highly prejudicial propaganda written by none other than that man for all seasons himself, Thomas More. And you know what? Even though the Bard of Avon gets most of the facts wrong, it's still a terrific play full of truth about human nature.

"Artemisia's" Writer/director Agnes Merlet, who handed out her own flyers that night, isn't Shakespeare, who is?, but her film is nonetheless well worth seeing. It's composed of ethereal images, rich in chiarusco, and an unforgettable performance by Valentina Cervi as Artemisia, that captures the tunnel-vision intensity of her artistic obsession in a time when women's career choices were limited to marriage, church or brothel.

Cervi is astounding. Her Artemisia is committed, intelligent, and too sure of her talent to credit the possibility of failure. When Artemisia asks a young man to strip, Cervi's performance makes her reaction to his nudity absolutely logical. She doesn't swoon over his considerable charms. Instead, she's enraptured by how a muscle glides over his hip and down his thigh. The only one surprised when she begins to sketch instead of frolic is her bemused subject, certainly not the audience. It's only right that her perspective on carnal desire changes after the eventual object of her lust has first taught her a revolutionary method of capturing perspective on canvas with paint.

"Artemisia" lived in a time and place so restrictive that it was illegal for an unmarried woman to see nude men. Merlet's film shows a remarkable woman for that time, or any other for that matter, who refused to be beaten by the limitations her era wanted to place upon her. Gloria, what's the problem?

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 5/15/98

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