Fabulist Raul Ruiz revisits the life of the Austrian artist


on August 31, 2007 by Wade Major
That Chilean surrealist Raul Ruiz would be attracted to the life of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt is hardly a surprise. Klimt's own boldly sexual approach to turn-of-the-century art nouveau, eventually known as the school of Vienna Secession, was every bit as brave and brash in its day as Ruiz's stridently rebellious approach to cinema is today. That's not necessarily to say that Klimt will please fans of the painter—it quite likely won't—but it's fairly certain to sit well with fans of Ruiz, even if it falls well shy of his very similar 1999 paean to novelist Marcel Proust, Time Regained .

Fans of the earlier film, in fact, may be a bit irked at Ruiz's unapologetic application of the same central narrative device, using Klimt's deathbed as a starting point from which to unspool a fantastical fever dream of key moments, relationships and bizarre interludes from Klimt's life. John Malkovich, who also appeared in Time Regained , plays Klimt as an icy and irresponsible libertine, a syphilitic serial impregnator and sworn enemy of the same pretentious Bohemians whose intolerable fawning and compulsive over-analysis helped forge his fame. Women adore him, critics detest him, others scarcely know what to make of him. Haunted by an adversarial apparition (Stephen Dillane) and irresistibly attracted to a seductive French dancer named Lea de Castro (Saffron Burrows), Klimt is shown living his life with the same passion and promiscuous sense of daring that is still the hallmark of his painting.

But Klimt is decidedly not a conventional biopic. Even the film's tagline seeks to dissuade such presumption, calling it “A fantasy based on the life of Gustav Klimt.” Fact, fiction and chronology are juggled and blurred with such abandon that piecing it all together is bound to be a fruitless and frustrating effort. That said, it's a substantially better attempt at blurring such distinctions than last year's similarly fantastic attempt at “interpreting” the life of Diane Arbus, the almost entirely fictionalized Fur . Malkovich's predictably mannered rendition of Klimt has little to do with history and everything to do with Ruiz's own personal impression of the man, though the picture's style is decidedly retro—less “in the style of Arthur Schnitzler,” as Ruiz has contended, and more in the way of Buñuel and Fellini.

Those to whom such references are appealing—as opposed to those who have no particular opinion about Ruiz one way or the other—are this film's natural audience. As with previous Ruiz conceits, they'll forgive its missteps and clunky pretentiousness, focusing instead on individual successes—before and behind the camera. It's not yet clear whether that amounts to a sufficiently large audience to give upstart distributor Outsider a fair shot at recoupment, but it ought to bode moderately well for the long-term, as Ruiz's body of work—and international reputation—continues to grow.
Distributor: Outsider
Cast: John Malkovich, Veronica Ferres, Stephen Dillane, Saffron Burrows, Nikolai Kinski and Joachim Bissmeier
Director/Screenwriter: Raul Ruiz
Producers: Arno Ortmair, Matthew Justice and Andreas Schmid
Genre: Biographical dramatic fantasy
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: Augusts 31 LA, September exp.
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