on May 13, 2005 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
There's a great performance in "Modigliani" but it doesn't come from Andy Garcia, who is merely serviceable in his portrayal of the Italian Jewish painter who galvanized Parisian art circles in 1919. That honor goes to French actress Elsa Zylberstein ("Metroland") who is astounding as Jeanne Hebuterne, Modigliani's Catholic mistress, who was so obsessed with the man that she threw over her family and even her child in her avid pursuit of him. Ironically, Zylberstein, who's not even playing an artistic character, gives one a better sense of what makes an artist pursue his muse than Garcia does or the film itself, which short-shrifts Modigliani's bold painting in favor of melodramatic plotting and pretty pictures of Paris café society.

Writer/director Davis creates a fictional contest between the painters of the time, concentrating on the real but cinematically embellished rivalry between the womanizing, alcoholic Modigliani and the famous Pablo Picasso, who disapproves of Modigliani's personal excesses but nevertheless feels threatened by his increasing artistic reputation. Davis' hypothesis that Paris' artists in the early 20th century, including other luminaries like Soutine and Rivera, were the equivalent of today's rock stars is certainly a provocative one but the movie is mostly ineffective in its depiction of their world. Other than Modigliani and Picasso, who is dully portrayed by Omid Djalili, the other artists are merely faces that pass by quickly onscreen. (The portrait of the great painter Auguste Renoir is simply ridiculous.) And while Zylberstein does her best to enliven the proceedings, she still has to act opposite Garcia, who doesn't begin to suggest Modigliani's brilliance and passion. He's bland enough that one wonders what Jeanne sees in him.

Zylberstein aside, the film rarely comes to life. Like the Gauguin film "The Wolf at the Door," "Modigliani" does a grave disservice to a man whose oeuvre still matters today. Starring Andy Garcia, Elsa Zylberstein, Omid Djalili and Hippolyte Girardot. Directed and written by Mick Davis. Produced by Philippe Martinez, Stephanie Martinez, Andre Djaoui and Alan Latham. An Innovation release. Drama. English- and Italian-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 128 min

Tags: Starring Andy Garcia, Elsa Zylberstein, Omid Djalili, Hippolyte Girardot. Directed and written by Mick Davis. Produced by Philippe Martinez, Stephanie Martinez, Andre Djaoui, Alan Latham, Innovation, Drama

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