Thursday, 18 April 2019

Film: 'At Eternity's Gate'

Bit of a curiosity, this. Unfortunately not quite as fulfilling for me personally as I'd hoped.
First of all one has to fight past the superficial oddity of a 63-year old Willem Dafoe playing Vincent van Gogh who died at 37 (from gunshot wound to the stomach, whether self-inflicted or not was never established). But Dafoe really does rise to the challenge admirably, displaying all the passion and impetuosity one might expect of a much younger man. Facially they've managed to give him a semblance of fading youth too. So that aspect doesn't hold one back from enjoying what there was to enjoy, which turned out to be rather less than I'd wished, malheuresement.

The film covers his end-of-life-period at Arles in the far south of France, including his friendship with Paul Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) in the film's first half, and his later time as an asylum resident in Auvers-sur-Oise.
There's some tricksy camerawork to reflect the visual impact of his (generally) unappreciated paintings, not entirely successfully to my mind. But what alarmed me was the extent to which this is a very wordy film - going on and on about his feelings and need to paint, musing on what it arises from with references to philosophy and God and this and that. There was a number of times when Van G. conversed at length in 'profound' terms (including with his ever faithful brother, Theo, played by Rupert Friend - and with priest Mads Mikkelsen, whom I failed to recognise) with various characters without either the story moving forward or resolving anything, and it became just plain dull, wanting me to shout out "Oh, get on with it!" I suppose the intention was to explain what made him 'tick', but when even he himself admits that he didn't know then it was a rather fruitless exercise.
There's also the significant presence of his doctor (Matthieu Amalric) of whom both he and Mikkelsen seemed to be appearing as 'guest stars' in a production they'd requested to be part of.
Btw: The actual cutting off of part of his ear is not shown but there's a fair bit of talk about it afterwards, notably with priest Mikkelsen.

It hit me later of what the film had reminded me - a long monologue as a theatre-piece being opened up for screen transfer, rather in the manner in which 'Shirley Valentine' had undergone that same process, while it had been far more powerful as the one-person theatre show I'd originally seen it as. I think this film would similarly have had more punch as a one-actor delivery.

I get the feeling that director Julian Schnabel ('The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' 2007) has rather over-reached himself with this film, though I've no doubt that there'll be plenty of others who would dispute that. I must also add one further qualification to my own views. I simply do not have a strong appreciation of the visual, which I do most profoundly possess in the cases of literature and music, both being capable of touching my inmost being. So it could well be that those who love this artist's works to a greater extent than I can muster will see depths in this film which totally missed me. I'm perfectly comfortable with that being the case. I can only report on my own experience of sitting through it.................5.5.

(IMDb.............6.9  / Rott. Toms. Users.........62% )

13 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Best appreciated, I reckon, by true art aficianados - though you may well be one yourself, JayGee. But for me although its intentions may have been sincere it just didn't work.

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  2. Replies
    1. I get no satisfaction at all from putting people off from seeing a film which, had it not been for me, they had considered as worthy, Carol. Of course one's own opinions, by their very nature, must be subjective, as is evidenced from the higher average ratings for this on other websites. I only hope that it was doubtful you were going to see it anyway

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    2. Don't worry, it was doubtful that I would see it anyway and I can tell from what you say that it's not my kind of film. You need not worry about putting me off anything. I take my time getting around to films and don't have the patience for films that are slow or don't add much to what I already know if based on true stories. I know you don't intend to put people off but I also trust your judgement.

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    3. Good to know, Carol - and I'm flattered by your final sentence. :-)

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  3. Oh well. I was hoping this would be good. So many in the list to see. I won’t bother with this until it’s on my TV.

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    1. On TV you'll be missing the impact of the landscapes with which the camera attempts to emulate the painter's own works, Mitch, but with doubtful efficacy in my opinion. But you will get the interaction between the players and maybe you'll see what I mean by their aimless conversations, extended beyond their function warrants it.

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  4. I'm tempted to give this a pass too. However, one of my favorite actors is in it, Amalric, whom we see so little of here in the States, that I'd reconsider, even though his appearance is brief.

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    1. Amalric, despite his total screen time being limited, is the best thing in the film, Paul, along with Dafoe himself. With that additional reason I really think that if you get the chance you might well give this a shot.

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  5. Sounds too much like 'work' I will skip this one.

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    1. It's not one to sit back and let it wash over you, Dr Spo. Nevertheless not a complete dud - far from it in fact. Though as you suggest, a bit of brain fodder.

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