Judge Katie Herrell dropped out of art school to become a film critic. No wonder she's bitter.
He Sought Greatness and Found the Soul of the World
Kiefer ditches his black 24 duds and tough guy attitude for an artist's sensibility and flowing locks, to portray the renowned painter Paul Gauguin. But I kept waiting for a bomb to go off.
Facts of the Case
Gauguin, a successful stockbroker with a lavish house and pampered family gives up everything to become a painter, after receiving a compliment from the Impressionist Pissarro. Gauguin follows a torturous path towards acclaim, absorbing himself in his work at the expense of his family and livelihood. Seeking inspiration, he travels to the South Seas where he finds religion, lust, and a fire to continue painting. Perceived masterpieces in hand, Gauguin returns to Paris only to be laughed out of the gallery. But he finds renewed appreciation from his estranged wife and is encouraged to travel back to the South Seas to finish the work that will ultimately define him as a painter.
I know Kiefer Sutherland was around long before 24, but he is so synonymous with the popular show that I can't imagine him as any other character. In this film, released in 2003, several years after his hit series began, Sutherland plays the real-life painter Paul Gauguin during the late 1800s. It is a character that couldn't be farther from 24's Jack Bauer, and yet they are both so obsessed with their passions and their careers, that they cause unremitting hardship for those close to them.
In Paradise Found, the pain caused by Gauguin's devotion to his painting is not the "I'm going to get you locked up in an ice chest" sort (ála Bauer), but rather a pain caused by neglect. Gauguin allows his wife Mette (Nastassja Kinski) and their four children to slowly descend into poverty as he tries to revolutionize the art world. His family eventually decamps to Mette's childhood home in Denmark, leaving the painter to his own destructive habits.
Artists are forever portrayed on film as obsessive, narrow-minded, passionate right-brainers who will do anything for their craft. But Sutherland's rendition of that passion rings hollow. He wears the smock-like shirts and sports a long natty mane of hair, but still looks like he's playing a sort of reverse dress up. He cries, loves, and alternates between frenzied painting and depressed staring, but the too-cool-for-school Bauer is always lying right under the surface.
Comparatively, Mette is a cauldron of real emotion, impeccably portraying the anguish that her self-centered husband is causing their family. Had Mette tipped over a vat of paint and rolled herself in it for the sake of art, I wouldn't have been surprised, nor would I have questioned her intentions—for the ART! But Sutherland earns no such allowance.
Equally as persuasive is Guaguin's Tahitian house guest, a sensual creature who speaks amazingly good English. She serves as Guaguin's muse and spiritual guide, but still maintained and independent, fiery streak. Even with little dialogue, this dark-haired nymph represented her island well.
Although the movie follows the tumultuous—yet cleaned up and altered—life and times of Guaguin, it doesn't really have a plot. There was painting and not painting, family and no family, the South Seas and Europe, but there is never a point I would call the climax. We never see Gauguin receive great acclaim for his work, and he never truly reconciles with his family. There is a happy ending in that Guaguin seems to find peace in his quest to become an artist and his wife resigns herself to his, and their, fractured existence.
The scenery is vibrant and diverse shifting from opulence to poverty, France to Tahiti. The colors, settings, and the portrayal of the period and different cultures are all realistic and inviting. The soundtrack lilts from one classical piece to the next. There are no special features on the DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the lack of plot and the poor casting of Sutherland, and in spite of my own misgivings, I enjoyed Paradise Found. It's a mindless film that manages to pawn itself off as intellectual, or at least as artistic. But it is not the "real" story of Gauguin. According to author Elizabeth Lunday (in the Mar/Apr 2007 issue of Mental Floss), the real painter lost his job in stocks during the 1882 stock-market crash in Paris, not in a wave of artistic fury; he traveled to Panama and Martinique before hitting Tahiti; he suffered from Syphilis and got in a bar brawl that resulted in a bad leg break. He did revolutionize the art world, creating the style that would become Post-Impressionist, but he wasn't necessarily a fellow you'd invite to dinner.
There are better biographical films about painters (see Frida). There are better acted films about over-the-top painters (see Pollack). But there are dozens of mediocre films about artists as well, and this one hovers towards the middle.
Guilty. I'm actually not really sure what the above charge means, exactly. It is a bit esoteric and touchy-feeling…but then so is Paradise Found. It's about searching for something until you find it…no matter the cost.
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Scales of Justice
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