Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Germany/Italy/France, 1997)

If you’ve ever wondered why women are so lightly represented in the history of art until the 20th Century, the reason is simple. They weren’t allowed to participate. There is no way of ever knowing how many works of genius the human race never got to see because of this stupidity. Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman, in the Western World, anyway, who broke through the barrier and had a career, and she only managed that because her father was an artist and knew talent when he saw it.

This movie elects not to be a biopic, which might have been more interesting, because it was a triumphant life. Instead, it chooses to deal with about a year in her life, 1610, when she was just getting started. She is open, honest, determined, and very, very good. (And she is played by Valentina Cervi, who is very, very pretty and quite a good actress.) But by having such a narrow focus and concentrating on her love life with a cad who may or may not have raped her, depending on your point of view (she was 17), it seems to more or less ignore her artistic achievements. And I know it’s hard to show the process of creation, but I wish they’d given it more of a try. Thinking back, I can’t recall many movies that made that work. I thought The Agony and the Ecstasy was tedious, Lust for Life was overwrought, and Girl With a Pearl Earring lacked focus, like this one. But Vincent and Theo was pretty good, and Sunday in the Park with George was helped along by the wonderful Sondheim music. My favorite movie based on painting was a segment called “Crows,” from Kurosawa‘s Dreams, where Martin Scorsese plays Vincent Van Gogh from within his paintings.

Bottom line, this is a good film but could have been a lot better.