Artemisia (1997) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Artemisia (1997) is a French film set in Italy in 1610, and is supposedly a biopic about the first woman to make a living as an artist. In fact, there are not many details known about her life, so the writers were pretty free to be creative with the truth. The artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, was nearly forgotten after her death, but rediscovered about 40 years ago, and is renowned as both an artist (she is hung in the Louvre and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art), but as an early feminist.
As the film opens, we see Artemisia in a convent school, stealing a candle from the chapel. That night, in her own room, she lights the candle and starts examining her body, in what looks like adolescent sexual awakening, but turns out to be her using herself as a figure model to work on her sketching ability. The nuns find her nude sketches, and confront her father, who is a well-known artist. Her father sees talent in the work, and decides to let her work in his studio, since the nuns clearly aren't teaching what she wants to learn. She is an apt pupil, and is soon as good as her father. 


Valentina Cervi showed pretty much everything between the self-examination scene, and a sex scene. There was a couple she caught doing the beast with two backs on the beach, a parade of nude models in the studio, and several women in an orgy scene, including an explicit gyno shot. 
 Up to this point, the film is on strong ground, as we learn how she became an artist, and how creativity and sexuality are intertwined. In act two, she becomes the pupil of another artist, who is also a randy old goat. She continues to learn from him, but the sexual tension is growing. In act three, they start getting it on, which is great fun for both until they are caught. The father has the guilty man arrested and charged with rape, to rescue his daughters honor. It was at this point that the film became rather tedious for me.

Valentina Cervi, in the title role, proved that she could act in an intelligent role, and the cinematography is rather nice. The outdoor scenes are very scenic, and the first scene with the candle and the mirror is very well done. 

Scoop's notes in yellow: 

It's really not as good as its notices, despite some strong positives. It's just OK - a well produced but uninteresting biography. Let's face it, it's not like you'll be waiting on pins and needles to see how it ends up. And you should be, even when you watch a biopic, dammit. Biopics don't have to be boring. Immortal Beloved is interesting. Amadeus is interesting. This film is not.

The strength is in its visuals, and they are impressive. It creates the look and feel of the paintings and the studios of the era. The composition of the images can be stunningly evocative of that era. It looks quite impressive, and the performances seemed reasonably convincing, although I wasn't as impressed with Valentia Cervi as Tuna was. She seemed like a little kid playing at being a painter. The French academy had it fixed exactly right, in my opinion. They nominated it only for best cinematography and best costumes, and it lost both.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • The DVD transfer is a little noisy, and there are no special features. 

The second strength is that it is erotic, with plenty of sex and nudity.

Beyond that - nothing. There is no point. She tries to become a painter, has some ups and downs, and they tell you the rest at the end with word slides. If it were not a "true" story, it would have no reason to exist.  It comes from the high school film strip school of biographies, except with sex and nudity. In fact, I guess it's fair to say that it has no reason to exist, because it isn't "true". It's one of those fanciful imaginings of the details of a life we know little about, ala Shakespeare in Love.

And my problem is as follows: if you're going to make up almost everything, at least make up something interesting. If I just wanted to learn the life story of an obscure person, I could look it up at the library. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 2.5/4, Apollo 81/100

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 78% positive reviews

  • nominated for a Golden Globe as best foreign picture

  • nominated for two Cesar's (Cinematography, Costumes)

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.9, Apollo users 79/100 
  • With their dollars ... less than a half million dollars.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, I can't give this more than a C, as I barely enjoyed  it, and it is my kind of film. (Scoop says: yeah, C or C+. It really doesn't have a raison d'etre. Unimaginative formula biopic. Story begins, tells her early life in chronological order, story ends, they tell you the rest with word slides. Finis. Yawn)

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