As an artist in the 19th century, Paul Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) epitomised the way of life of the bohemian visionary. His radical deviations away from classical standards were frowned upon by the European artistic elite, leaving him with empty pockets and his large family with empty stomachs. Starved of inspiration and hungry to feast his eyes on a new world, he departed for Tahiti where he imagined he could paint in peace, living in harmony with nature.
Edouard Deluc’s biography follows the revolutionary painter as he adapts to this new world and discovers an untried way of painting. Gauguin captures the artist’s fascination with island life as he immerses himself in the indigenous way of living. He marries a native woman, learns their language and encapsulates their culture in his work.
The cinematography and set design are completely immersive: creating a living, breathing portal to another time, a dream world, which Gauguin carves a meagre existence out of. Unfortunately, most of the compositions are rigidly dedicated to the melancholic tone set by Deluc and are thus devoid of the colour and vitality of the artist’s work during the period. The narrative is sluggish and predictable, almost every chapter plods to its heavily sign-posted conclusion.
The true glory of the film rests on Vincent Cassel’s shoulders, and he brings the painter’s flaws and talents to life in irresistible fashion. Gauguin expects a life of leisure upon sinking his feet into the Polynesian sand for the first time but instead finds himself in the same rut as his former Parisian self. He burns with frustration as his finest work fails to make money, as he fails to maintain a healthy relationship with his new wife and as his self-destructive tendencies push him closer to the edge. This journey is smothered by Deluc’s despondently bleak vision, each small victory is spoiled by the protagonist’s perpetual destitution, thus proving that he is incapable of living in any society.
Gauguin is released in selected cinemas on 3rd November 2017.