Dir: Raúl Ruiz. Aust-Ger-UK-Fr.2006. 129mins (Director's Cut)/97 mins (short version).
There are biopics- and then there are biopics in the style of Raúl Ruiz. Anyone hoping for an easily comprehensible,fact-based ride through the life of Viennese painter Gustav Klimt(1862-1918) will be baffled by the flamboyantly discontinuous approach taken bythe prolific Chilean-born director here. Framed as a sort of hallucinationexperienced by the painter on his deathbed, the English-language Klimt muses free-associatively on Klimt's themes and images, filtering them through thedirector's idiosyncratic visual aesthetic.
Though often extremelybeautiful, Klimt never hits the deliriousheights of Ruiz's best work; it is also too enigmatic to appeal to the upmarketarthouse audience that made his 1999 Proust adaptation Time Regained - which also starredKlimt lead JohnMalkovich - a prestige hit.
In Rotterdam, the film wasshown in two versions - Ruiz's cut, edited by his wife and regular collaboratorValeria Sarmiento, and a less convincing 97-minuteversion for the international market.
Sales prospects look limitedin either case, but buyers and festivals alike deserve a chance to consider thefull version which, for all its flaws, has a wayward logic that is entirelydistinctive.
Its best chances of play liein continental Europe, especially France and Germany, particularly amongaudiences who found something in the magic realism and image heaviness of Frida or thefictionalised approach adopted by Ken Russell in Mahler and The Music Lovers.
The film begins in 1918, ina Vienna sanatorium where Klimt (Malkovich)is dying of syphilis: the flashbacks to his life are triggered by a visit fromyounger painter Egon Schiele(Nikolai Kinski). We then see Klimt18 years earlier, painting naked female models suspended from his studioceiling, and then at a cafe where he listens to a discussion on the principlesof beauty and utility - and coolly shoves a cream cake into the face of one ofthe more vociferous pontificators.
A prophet without honour inhis own land, Klimt is rapturously received in Paris,where film pioneer Georges Meliès (Gunther Gillian) introduces him to the mysterious Lea DeCastro (Burrows) - much to the concern of Klimt'splatonic mistress Emilie Flöge(Ferres).
Klimt is seduced by Lea, and/or her double, while heraristocrat sugar daddy watches from behind a trick mirror. The artist is alsoclosely watched by a mysterious nemesis, an Austrian civil servant (Dillane), who seems to grow younger as time passes.
The film's liquid,dream-like logic owes much to the fiction of Klimt'scontemporary Arthur Schnitzler (publicity materialbills the film as A Viennese Fantasy à la manière de Schnitzler - sic).
It's a moot point how muchof the imagery relates directly to Klimt's work,although in one dazzling sequence, the artist is caught in a shower of the goldleaf that he used so liberally.
Much of the visual flavour,however, is 100 per cent Ruiz: simple but effective tricks with two-waymirrors, disorienting tracking shots, and a panoply ofsurreal images, such as a brothel where moustaches are de rigueur for the women.
But the film gives littlesense of Klimt's career or importance, concentratinginstead, rather hazily, on his love life: we learn that he was a prodigiouswomaniser with many illegitimate children, but many of his muses appear to bevirtually interchangeable mirror images of each other.
The dialogue's stiff,self-conscious ring may result from the fact that it was originally written inFrench by Ruiz, before being translated - via German - into English and thenadapted by novelist and Bertolucci collaboratorGilbert Adair.
It's possible that some ofthe more eccentric lines betoken a deliberately ironic approach to the clichesof the biopic genre. However, given the generally creaky tone of the acting,it's hard to tell, and the film seems at times to be aiming for a record in thenumber of different accents that can be squeezed into one co-production.
John Malkovich,although at times engagingly wry, is generally at his most dandyishlylanguid and gives little sense of Klimt's charismaand alleged passion, while Saffron Burrows is blandly mannered as the elusiveLea.
The film livens up no endwith the sporadic appearances of Stephan Dillane, whobrings a genuinely sinister mischief to his phantom-like role.
For all the film's flaws,the full-length version at least establishes its own hallucinatory rhythm,underlined by Jorge Arriagada's lushly ominous score.A significant problem of the abridged version - on which Tony Lawson iscredited as additional editor - is that it dilutes the resonance of certainimages.
For example, it loses ascene in which Klimt examines a display of'cannibals' in cages - a scene that gives greater weight to a later moment whenhe and a friend wear gorilla masks in a cage at a brothel. Cutting out suchdoublings reduces key images to non sequiturs.
Also missing from the shortversion is a sequence in which Klimt watches aChinese painter at work: one of the few moments that genuinely sheds light on his development as an artist. A fewadditional subtitles in the short version (eg Vienna:The Secession) come across as an unconvincing sop to biopic conventions.
Epo Film Productions
Independent Film Sales
Additional editing (shortversion)