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.
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.