Artemisia Review

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17th century female painter Artemesia Gentileschi enagages in a love affair with fellow artist Agostino Tassi.


This study of the first significant female figure in Western art arrives here having already notched up a notable double. Not only has it scandalised the American censors but it's also managed to annoy a fair number of feminists. The chief accusation levelled by the appalled commentators is that this handsome biopic has betrayed the real Artemesia by presenting her as the fated heroine of a Gothic melodrama, rather than as a courageous woman who challenged the conventions of her day in order to commit her vision to canvas. It's a valid point, but when have filmmakers ever been able to resist the more romantic aspects of a painter's life?

The daughter of Caravaggio's onetime assistant Orazio Gentileschi (Serrault), Artemisia (Cervi) is expelled from her convent school for defying the Pope by drawing male nudes. Recognising her talent, Orazio permits her to study with Agostino Tassi (Manojlovic), a rising talent with whom he's collaborating on a series of frescoes. But etching isn't all that Tassi teaches Artemesia and the teenager is soon hopelessly in love. However, their secret is discovered and Orazio charges Tassi with rape, unaware that the ensuing trial might have equally dire consequences for his own child. Employing the lighting designs of the High Renaissance, this is a particularly beautiful looking movie. Yet what Merlet gives us (for all its sensibilities and pretensions) is less an impression of artistic passion than a novelettish tale of doomed love, in which the feisty heroine has to suffer before attaining salvation. Consequently, Cervi plays Artemesia as a sensual, lovesick adolescent, without ever remotely suggesting a fierce, creative spirit willing to risk everything for art.

This is a committed and well crafted film. But it's more an impressionistic sketch than a portrait from real life.