New film about artist Paul Gau­guin

Glenn Dunks looks at the new film that ex­am­ines French artist Paul Gau­guin’s time in the South Pa­cific and his in­flu­ence on decades of cinema.

Paradise - - Contents -

Many artists have drawn in­spi­ra­tion from the Pa­cific, but few have em­bed­ded them­selves into the cul­ture quite so much as Paul Gau­guin. The French-born artist is widely recog­nised for bring­ing Poly­ne­sian cul­ture to a wider au­di­ence through his colour­ful paint­ings and de­tailed sculp­tures at the turn of the 19th cen­tury.

Gau­guin’s life in the South Pa­cific is now the ba­sis of a movie star­ring Vin­cent Cas­sel ( Black Swan, Ocean’s 12). French di­rec­tor Edouard Deluc’s Gau­guin fol­lows the lat­ter half of the artist’s life as he leaves the squalor of Paris for Tahiti and French Poly­ne­sia in 1891. Al­though he ex­pected an idyl­lic par­adise, he was in­stead greeted by an is­land na­tion that had been trans­formed by coloni­sa­tion. He re­mained poor, forced to sell his art­works to tourists for pen­nies, just to af­ford paint­ing sup­plies.

Gau­guin has been por­trayed on screen sev­eral times be­fore by the likes of Don­ald Suther­land in

The Wolf at the Door (1986) and An­thony Quinn in Lust for Life (1956), who won an Os­car for his por­trayal. This is the first time, how­ever, that a French ac­tor has played this iconic Paris-born artist and the first time telling the story of his time in the Poly­ne­sian is­lands.

Cas­sel def­i­nitely looks the part, with his wild and un­tamed salt-and-pep­per hair of­ten hid­ing un­der Gau­guin’s trade­mark straw hat, his grey beard a mess as he sets out through the Tahi­tian wilderness in search of artis­tic in­spi­ra­tion with his young bride, Te­hura.

She is played by Poly­ne­sian ac­tress Tuhei Adams, a dancer from Mitima­hana who was spot­ted on the street and cast in the co-star­ring role. She is a break-out star and the film’s high­light.

De­spite a name that isn’t as fa­mous as Van Gogh, Pi­casso, Monet or Da Vinci, the dis­tinct

Gau­guin has been por­trayed on screen sev­eral times. This is the first time, how­ever, that a French ac­tor has played this Paris-born artist and the first time telling the story of his time in the Poly­ne­sian is­lands.

look of Gau­guin’s paint­ings had a last­ing ef­fect on the way the re­gion was rep­re­sented in wider cul­ture. As re­cently as 2015, a Gau­guin work from 1892 ti­tled ‘Nafea Faa Ipoipo’ (When Do You Marry?)” sold for PGK895 mil­lion. His paint­ings catch the eye be­cause of the lush greens of the moun­tain­ous forests, the crisp blues of the ocean and the sky, the sparkling yel­low of the sands. He was also care­ful to high­light skin tones and the way women dress. Hol­ly­wood es­pe­cially took in­spi­ra­tion. The 1962 ver­sion of Mutiny on the Bounty – the first adap­ta­tion of the fa­mous Charles Nord­hoff and James Nor­man Hall novel to be pro­duced in colour – owes an ob­vi­ous debt to the paint­ings of Gau­guin, even though it suf­fers from the sorts of cul­tural in­ac­cu­ra­cies and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions that were com­mon at the time. That film starred Mar­lon Brando and Richard Har­ris, and even though it was con­sid­ered a box of­fice flop, it was nom­i­nated for seven Academy Awards and put the Pa­cific re­gion on the cin­e­matic map. But in the decades since, as coun­tries like Pa­pua New Guinea, Van­u­atu, Samoa and French Poly­ne­sia have be­come more open to the world through tourism, so too have the sto­ries of these great na­tions be­come more au­then­tic in their rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the cul­ture. Gau­guin was filmed in Tau­rita, where a set was built recre­at­ing the vil­lage of Mataiea where the real Gau­guin lived. Film­ing also took place in Vaira’o and Papeno’o.

Caught on film ... Vin­cent Cas­sel as Paul Gau­guin (op­po­site page); the movie poster (above); and clips from the movie, in­clud­ing was Poly­ne­sian ac­tress Tuhei Adams who and spot­ted on the street by the film­mak­ers cast in the co-star­ring role.

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