(Air Date: Week Of 10/09/96)
Legends about Pablo Picasso abound -- his lust for publicity, his lust for women, his avarice. Genius and megolomania often keep company. Now a decade's worth of Picasso and his life are captured by the Merchant / Ivory / Wolper / Ruth Prawer Jhabvala team in "Surviving Picasso". The perspective is that of Francoise Gilot, the mother of Claude and Paloma Picasso, who, as a twenty-three year old art student, met Picasso in Paris in 1943, and stayed with him for ten years. Unlike the other women who came into Picasso's sphere in overlapping succession, only to be eventually retired into the pantheon of Picasso's former loves, she managed to survive the experience, largely due to her humor and power of detachment. In one of her voiceovers, she says: "When he had a new woman in his life, a new woman appeared in his paintings. That's how you knew."
A svelte Anthony Hopkins looks exactly the part of Piccasso, and delivers a dazzling performance, although, astounding as Hopkins is, I could have wished for a Mediteranean streak in the actor playing Picasso, which Mr. Hopkins does not possess. Still, Hopkins is as good as Hopkins can be, and that is very very good. He delivers his often epigrammatic lines with an appealing British dryness -- while he paints, he says: "I make a lot of mistakes, and so does God."
When Francoise takes the baton as Picasso's main squeeze, she overlaps with the artist Dora Maar, played by a brooding Julianne Moore, who warns Francoise that after Picasso, there is nothing. But Picasso's draw is irresistible, and he persuades Francoise to move with him to the south of France. He disappears on Thursdays and Sundays to visit the pathetically loyal MarieTherese Walter, with whom he'd previously had a daughter, and Francoise shocks him by insisting on meeting Marie Therese and the little girl. Picasso would have preferred that the women fight over him, not compare notes over tea. The now insane Olga Picasso, a former Diageliev dancer, turns up to taunt Francoise by jeering that she's still Picasso's one and only wife.
So there's a plethora of gossip in "Surviving Picasso", gossip based on fact and told with a gripping fascination, but, in itself, only serving to illustrate how a powerful, talented artist can be amorally indifferent to the personal havoc he wreaks. Is this really a revelation? The personal stuff isn't balanced by insights into Picasso, the artist, although we do see him painting in his studio, wrangling with art dealers, and visiting the older artist Matisse.
But even if mucking in the lives of famous people is a guilty pleasure, the color and drama of Picasso's life have a high entertainment value, and "Surviving Picasso" is a fascinating portrait of a genius occupying the center of the universe, and the story of a strong woman who is finally capable of acting for her own self-preservation.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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