Klimt, dir. Raoul Ruiz

The criticisms of Klimt on imdb (and a lot of people really, really didn’t like it) seem to amount to three things:

  • I was expecting a biopic on Klimt and this isn’t it
  • Ruiz doesn’t seem to have done much research: a lot of what’s put forward in this film is not factually true
  • This film is pretentious and obscure

Possibly I found the film more bearable because I had different expectations – expectations not based purely on the title, but on the fact that it was directed by Ruiz, and that the only other Ruiz film I’ve seen is his version of Proust’s Time Regained. As such, I was expecting an obscure, incomprehensible film about a man’s life told in flashback from his death-bed – and I really wasn’t disappointed in this expectation. Probably the recent why there’s the odd ecstatic review on imdb (“greatest film I’ve ever seen” etc.) is (excepting these people don’t get to the cinema much) that, if you don’t seek much meaning in the film but just let the images flood over you, it is visually quite stunning.

Here’s an oddity: the film uses the technique of English spoken with funny German accents to evoke the fact that we’re in Vienna; but every now and then someone comes on and delivers a speech in straight German, which is nowhere translated for us on the screen. What are we meant to make of this? One presumes the characters can understand straight German of this sort; but perhaps we cannot.

The film claims the Vienna of this time was a cultural backwater; and there is pressure on Klimt to go off to Paris, where the art scene is happening. This reminded Obooki of the piece William Boyd wrote about the Vienna of the same period in The Guardian a few weeks ago, in which pre-war Vienna is seen (perhaps) as an important moment in human culture; and I was particularly reminded of SocalAlex’s critique of this piece in the comments – particularly two ideas in it: that the centre of Vienna, of which Boyd is fond, is merely a preserved piece of archaism and isn’t where it’s at (this seems to be pointed at in the film, when the city elder type delightedly tells Klimt that he’s always blackballed everything that Klimt ever tried to do in the city, in order to preserve Vienna from change); and that “Boyd has little to say of Schnitzler or Kraus, who mercilessly exposed their contemporaries’ hypocrisy.” I hear Ruiz’s film might be a little influenced by Schnitzler (though I know nothing of these things: I tried to read some Schnitzler once and found it unbearable): – certainly it comes out at times like Eyes Wide Shut (this descent into a demi-monde of high-class prostitution and nudity), and no doubt those that found that film a bore will find this too; and Klimt is forever contemptuous of pretty much everyone he encounters and their pretentions to intellect/culture (well, with the exception of Schiele).

Which brings me to the point about pretension: – well, perhaps, if you find obscurity and lack of meaning pretentious (the next film Obooki watched was Inland Empire: what would they make of that?): but I was wondering too, the film, through the personification of Klimt, seems to go out of its way to attack a lot of the empty talk about art, indeed the whole critical circle that surrounds, which could only please Obooki. But then again, it does have John Malkovich in it.


5 thoughts on “Klimt, dir. Raoul Ruiz

  1. Not sure how much I would like it. I have a huge problem with fake accents and have dedicated whole posts to this topic. I like Schnitzler and Eyes Wide Shut and nice pictures. It’s interesting that many artists’ “biopics” work along this line, the directors don’t follow the stories as much as re-interpret them focussing on the paintings. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. In any case this sounds like a movie I should at least try but then again…Malkovich + fake accents. At least I would understand the German parts and could report back.

  2. It must be difficult for you to watch so many war films and yet have a problem with fake accents! – I don’t think there were that many German bits to be fair; but perhaps watch it for the art direction.

    One thing I forgot to mention: there’s a scene where Klimt goes to Paris and gets a mysterious invitation to visit some high-society woman, is chaperoned there, placed in a strange room, and then encounters a naked woman etc. – Not such much Eyes Wide Shut, I thought, as a scene taken straight out of Grimmelshausen – a scene which, too, was set in Paris.

  3. Oh, it’s entirely painful but I’m not doing it for entertainment only. It’s a bit of a research project. But I see your point, it may very well be the genre in which it is most likely to encounter fake accents. Occasionally with hilarious results. I’m not sure however that any movie I ever truly appreciated had this type of accents.

  4. I watched a film by Hayao Miyazaki yesterday and naturally had to have Japanese language with English subtitles. Miyazaki is entirely ruined for me, somehow, if the characters are being voiced by Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett.

  5. Amazing review, Obooki. However, I’m almost equally impressed by how Caroline reduced it to the anti-blurb I would have wanted to write: “”Malkovich + fake accents”! That about says it all, doesn’t it? I might want to watch all of Ruiz at some point, though–at the very least, I like the idea of a director who would provoke his audience with occasional speeches in untranslated German. Genius.

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