Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti

Studio: Cohen Media Group
Directed by Edouard Deluc

Jul 26, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Paul Gauguin, long revered as a pioneer of post-Impressionist art, was a man who lived a roller coaster of a life. After his lucrative stockbroking career (enabling his large family to want for nothing) went belly-up in the 1882 French stock market crash, several failed business start-ups and his mounting obsession with painting full-time drove him into severe poverty, and to eventually being disowned by his family. His crusade to live and create as an uninhibited artist would take him to Tahiti, in which time he would paint some of his most passionate masterpieces. Though my aforementioned lead-in is a gross oversimplification, Edouard Deluc’s sophomore feature attempts to elaborate on this two-year period in more vivid detail. Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti captures many passions and pitfalls of its titular painter with an earnest sensitivity; though it also handles this moment in art history like that of a faded memory.

While striving to discover an authenticity to fuel his work near the turn of the century, Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) is fed up with the artistic scene in Paris. His pleas to friends, his wife Mette (Pernille Bergendorff), and his five children to follow him to Tahiti fall on unwilling and deaf ears, with him eventually embarking on the journey alone. After living a while in the village of Mataiera, his quest takes him deep into the untamed wilderness, where he meets the young native girl Tehura (Tuheï Adams). Their love affair soon produces a continuous plethora of paintings, drawings, etchings and carvings; all the while crippled by poverty, their toxic temperaments, and Gauguin’s cardiac, respiratory, and diabetic medical woes.

This film is almost impressionistic. Though completionist fans of post-Impressionist history will probably delight at the serious tone and complete lack of intellectual pandering, casual investment will lead to confusion. Gauguin drifts through a sequence of contemplative and transitionary moments, like rummaging through a photo album. There isn’t much coherence to follow while our main character is “following [his] path,” and this is mainly due to most of the scenes being seemingly inspired by the actual Gauguin paintings of this period. Much like Loving Vincent, the filmmakers have used the artist’s work to construct a story, an environment, and to justify the existence of some characters. That in lies the issue.

While Loving Vincent’s murder-mystery plot was somewhat shallow, its direct effectiveness managed to take the passions and nightmares of Van Gogh to center stage, accompanied by a masterful visual experience. We came to understand the artist more (even one as enigmatic as Van Gogh), even though the story was mostly fictional. Gauguin’s focus on the actual creation of each famous painting is a bold choice, true. However, our connectivity to the artist often stagnates, because there is little effort to relateMathew  how he sees the world beyond basic outsider observations, and all we can do is watch him sketch and wait for something to happen. Deluc, Etienne Comar, Thomas Lilti, Raphaëlle Desplechin, and Sarah Kaminsky’s screenplay does not possess the vibrancy, serenity, and subtle chaos expressed through Gauguin’s paintings to believably articulate his experience creating them.

Though, that isn’t to say that Pierre Cottereau’s cinematography (which could be home in an exploratory documentary) isn’t completely breath-taking, or that Guerric Catala’s editing isn’t immaculately paced. Cassel is also a near-perfect choice as Gauguin, and primarily carries the film with his unrelenting (almost harrowing) performance, matched only by Adams’ natural charisma, and their shared chemistry.

There are fine intentions and a true sense of wonder throughout, though, that is more the result of Tahiti’s actual geography, and a strong cast, than its depiction of Gauguin’s life and creative process. Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is mixed emotional experience that greatly excels in some areas, though ultimately doesn’t quite go as far as it should.

cohenmedia.net/films/gauguin

Author rating: 6.5/10

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run 3
August 2nd 2018
11:43pm

I will embark on doing it. Hope you can continue to contribute your talents in this area.