Le mystère Picasso (1956)

As I may have said before, the visual arts are not really my strong point, and Pablo Picasso in particular is one artist I’ve simply never got. He’s one of those people whose historical importance I acknowledge largely because it’s generally claimed by others, but I don’t respond to his work much myself. To be honest, I approached this more because H.G. Clouzot directed it, not because Picasso was the subject; in any case, it’s more Picasso’s film than Clouzot, the latter generally leaving the former to let rip. And it’s rivetting. As this piece notes, Clouzot essentially takes the same route as an earlier film about Picasso, having him paint one side of a “transparent” canvas while filming from the other side, but expands on the older film by using colour, expanding to feature length, and—perhaps most strikingly—also expanding to Cinemascope in the last third of the film when Picasso calls for a large canvas. (I’ll bet this moment is amazing when viewed in cinemas; obviously it’s not the same on the small screen.) This is a film quite literally about the artistic process, in which the end result is arguably less important than the journey thereto; some works are produced in apparent real time, others in more compressed fashion (camera shoots a few frames, Picasso does a bit more work, camera shoots some more, etc). It’s intriguing to watch how things develop from a few initial squiggles, even how Picasso’s inks lighten in colour as they dry, and some of the works—particularly the one that ends the film—undergo quite remarkable transformations. With the paintings and drawings apparently all destroyed once shooting was over, these works now only exist on film, which—just as if not more importantly—also preserves their intermediate stages as well. I still don’t know how much I like Picasso’s art, but I’ve got a far better appreciation of the work that went into the creation of it…

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