Surviving Picasso

on September 20, 1996 by Bridget Byrne
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   There is a British stiff-upper-lip quality to "Surviving Picasso" that immediately marks it as a fake--a well-put-together fake, but a fake nonetheless. Anthony Hopkins is charmingly vigorous as Picasso (too charming perhaps for the viewpoint of the story) but he fails to be convincing as the famous Spanish artist, not just because he sounds a touch Welsh but because, unusually for such a fine actor, his mannerisms seem overlaid rather than inborn. Natascha McElhone plays Francoise Gilot, the bourgeois young woman who chooses bohemian romance. Gradually she matures, and she finds that life with Picasso also denies her freedom, but with the title signposting the conclusion there is little suspense involved in this journey. A British newcomer, McElhone is beautiful to look at, a fit object for any artist's eye, even Picasso's, though he sets about reconstructing Gilot not only on canvas but emotionally.
   Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala used Arianna Stassinopoulus' controversial biography "Picasso: Creator and Destroyer" as source material. Blame may fall where it will, but the result is a repetitive interlacing of fingerpointing at Picasso for being selfishly bullish. The women lured in are variously depicted as mad, bitter, foolish, weak or a combination of all, except of course for Gilot, who "survives."
   As usual, James Ivory has made a handsome movie, full of persuasive period detail of France in the '40s and '50s. But his pretty picture is an inappropriate canvas for such a messy life. Unable for legal reasons to show Picasso's real artwork in the film, Ivory doesn't manage to capture the man, the artist, the genius or his lover with any unique insight. It's a careful film, its tone marked by a supporting cast that includes such competent British veterans as Joan Plowright as Gilot's grandmother and Joss Ackland as Henri Matisse, not at all convincingly French. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Natascha McElhone. Directed by James Ivory. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Produced by Ismail Merchant and David L. Wolper. A Warner release. Romance. Rated R for a scene of nudity and brief sex-related language. Running time: 124 min. Opens wide Friday Sept. 20
Tags: Starring Anthony Hopkins, Natascha McElhone, Directed by James Ivory. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Produced by Ismail Merchant, David L. Wolper, Warner, Romance
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