|Michael A. Maynez|
Agnes Merlet, as director and screenwriter of the true story of the first master woman painter, Artemisia Gentileschi of the 1600’s, has brought with obsession to the screen a real masterpiece. Her research has been thorough and though she could have opted for a historical epic, she has centered her heroine in the romantic rhythms of that time.
Valentina Cervi, as “Artemisia”, plays her with such youthful abandon so as to place you right in the middle of her escapades. First, it is a time when young ladies do not choose to be painters and even if they did, the Academy wouldn’t accept them. Her father played with such passion by the very versatile Michel Serrault, (Remember, the original “The Birdcage”.) gives a performance as Orazio Gentileschi, the famous painter who allows her daughter to be taught by him. She becomes obsessed with the male genitalia and is determined to paint it in all its splendor. Indeed her sexual repression is partially to blame for this. A scene where she asks a young man to take off his trousers, with a promise of a kiss, the youth mistakes this for a sexual conquest and all she is interests in how the muscle lines of the thighs lead to his legs.
Her virginity is of great consequence to her and her father. In a world dominated by male artists and models, she manages quite well to forestall her deflowering. When her father has taught her as much as he knows, he helps her to become a protégé of Agostino Tassi, a great artist detailed beautifully by the actor Miki Manojlovic. As an older man he is quite taken by her youth and beauty and slowly they dance into a relationship of love. The teacher-pupil put aside, leading her to paint the now famous painting of Judith Beheading Holopheme.
The first rape trial brings about the end to their love affair, brought about by her father who feels betrayed and dishonored by his best friend. The trial scenes are vivid and slightly bloodied.
The wonderment that this story was even filmed shows that women have made great in-roads into movie making. Agnes Merlet deserves the highest honors for making a motion picture with such scope and honesty. As the ad heralded, “Sexy, Defiant, Provocative. Her passion for art changed the face of history.” And we’re all richer for it!
Directed by ----------- Agnès Merlet
Written by ------------ Patrick Amos, Agnès Merlet, Christine Miller
Cinematography by --- Benoît Delhomme
Original music by ----- Krishna Levy
Produced by ---------- Patrice Haddad
Running time 96 min
French film 1997