Raphael Minder: Picasso’s Life Inspires Two Films

The New York Times, August 17, 2012


MADRID — Two events in Picasso’s life, a quarter of a century apart, are at the heart of new movies by two of Spain’s veteran directors.

Carlos Saura is preparing “33 Días” (“33 Days”), which will focus on the artist’s emotional upheaval in 1937, when he painted “Guernica,” his harrowing representation of the bombing of a Basque town that has come to symbolize the outrage of warfare. And in the autumn Fernando Colomo is to release “La Banda Picasso” (“Picasso’s Gang”) about how Picasso found himself entangled in the stunning theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris in 1911. While the Mona Lisa was eventually recovered and found to have been stolen by a Louvre employee, Picasso was initially suspected of having taken part in the theft, which affected his relationship with some of the other artists working in Paris.

It destroyed his friendship with Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet who helped clear Picasso of any involvement but who was forced to accept responsibility for another art theft.

Turbulent relationships also marked Picasso’s life at the start of 1937, when he accepted a commission for the Paris Universal Exposition from the Republican government of Spain, then fighting a civil war against the Fascist troops of Gen. Francisco Franco. Picasso’s personal life was also in disarray: He was neglecting his wife, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, and was involved with two mistresses: Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar.

“The scope of this ‘Guernica’ project got a lot broader after looking more closely at this huge sentimental conflict,” Mr. Saura said in Spanish. Besides Picasso’s having to juggle the women competing for his attentions, the director added, “ ‘Guernica’ really came at a time when Picasso was short of artistic inspiration and had real doubts about the direction of his work.”

Although delving into Picasso’s relationships required some fictional interpretation, Mr. Saura and Mr. Colomo both said that they had broadly aimed to stick to the facts. The two films, which will be in Spanish and French, are initially scheduled for European distribution. Mr. Colomo, 66, said in Spanish that he had spent about eight years researching and preparing his script, reading during that time almost 100 books on Picasso, so that “this movie has probably required more work than all my previous 19 films combined.”

Still, in the case of the Mona Lisa theft, “the story itself is so weird and surreal that I’m sure many spectators will think that it’s mostly fiction,” he said.

Picasso’s work on “Guernica” has been extensively documented, not least by Maar, whose photographs can be seen near the painting in the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid. The painting itself has recently undergone another major restoration and investigation effort, using infrared and ultraviolet photography taken by a computer-controlled robot to discover scratches and other signs of damage, as well as to see if there were any previously unknown preparatory drawings or touch-ups.

Mr. Saura has scheduled nine weeks of shooting, starting in October, split between the town of Guernica and Paris. Mr. Colomo’s movie was shot in six weeks late last year in Budapest, with a cast of newcomers and a budget of $5 million. “The cinema industry is now suffering so much in this financial crisis that not a single minute of filming can be wasted,” he said.

PICASSO jp1 sfSpanCoincidentally, each movie has a lead actor who comes from Málaga, Picasso’s birthplace. Mr. Colomo cast Ignacio Mateos, who has worked for the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris. Mr. Saura’s Picasso is Antonio Banderas. Gwyneth Paltrow (who speaks Spanish) plays Maar. “What’s fascinating about Dora Maar is that she wasn’t just the lover but also the visual witness of Guernica,” Mr. Saura said.

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