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Modigliani - art house and international DVD review
MODIGLIANI rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: Andy Garcia, Elsa Zylberstein, Omid Djalili, Hippolyte Girardot, Eva Herzigova
Director: Mick Davis   Studio: UMVD/Visual Entertainment
DVD release: 27 September 2005   Runtime: 127 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound), Subtitles (English), Theatrical trailers, Making of featurette

Andy Garcia gives a finely nuanced performance as tortured artist Amadeo Modigliani, an Italian Jew (1884-1920), Pablo Picasso's contemporary.The two emerging geniuses have in common their great drive to excel as artists, each ground-breaking at a time when Paris embraces cutting-edge work, a generation of artists experimenting with private visions of creativity.

The mercurial, poverty-stricken Modi barely ekes out a living, often dwelling in squalor amid his paintings, heavily in thrall to alcohol and drugs when reality becomes too burdensome. A Jew in a country grown intolerant of religious differences, Modigliani is an outcast in many respects, but through Garcia's artistry, the character sparkles with sensitivity and gentle humor, his heart open to experience and friendship, fellow artists flocking to his rooms as they pursue outrageous concepts for their paintings.

There is a marked antipathy between Modi and Picasso (Omid Djalili), the more abstract Picasso the toast of Parisian society, ever aware of potential financial success, Modigliani driven by unseen demons and a disdain for the material.

When Modi meets his muse, the lovely Jeanne Hébuterne (Elsa Zilberstein), she is enchanted by his smile, charmingly agreeing to pose for him in his studio. From a conventional family, Jeanne treads treacherous waters, Modigliani anathema to a rigid Catholic father who hates Jews. A pregnant Jeanne faces a terrible choice but cannot resist the man she so desperately loves.

Zilberstein plays Jeanne beautifully, casting tremulous glances, indulging in sly flirtations when she captures Modi's attention. Viewing the artist's first portrait of her, Jeanne asks, "What of my eyes?" His response, "When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes." Indeed, he does, in the film's dramatic denouement, the Ecole de Paris exhibition, where Modigliani's painting is the highlight of the competition, gaining thunderous applause even from Picasso.

Unfortunately, Modigliani's life is too short for the recognition of his genius, his brokenhearted muse inconsolable, left with an infant daughter and another child soon to be born. The loss of Modigliani is indeed a tragedy, French society only belatedly recognizing the talent of this iconoclastic artist, the shabby painter who dances in the icy streets of Paris to music only he can hear.

Garcia completely inhabits this character, bringing to life a master sometimes shadowed by the more prodigious Picasso. With a score that highlights the pathos and drama of a creative spirit wrestling with his fate yet called to accept the responsibility of fatherhood, this is a man of two worlds, a visionary who cannot meet the demands of practicality, unable to resist the siren call of his art and the demons that pursue him.

Too seldom does art touch those it is meant to elevate, but this film celebrates the eccentricities and abandonment of those called to create the images that feel the souls of centuries.
reviewed by Luan Gaines
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