Movie Review: Le Tableau (The Painting) (2013)

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Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

In The Painting, groups of paintings come to life and their figures search for their painter so he can finish working on them. The whole story is animated in colorful, playful styles with references to great Modernist painters. The protagonist is a plucky young woman looking for adventure. So. Someone finally made a movie exactly for me, I thought. The story throws together three distinctive figures living within a single painting: a privileged “Alldun”, a completed figure; a “Halfie”, incomplete and relegated to living outside of the central castle; and a “Sketchie”, a line doodle who isn’t accepted anywhere. They set out somewhat accidentally to find their painter so he can finish them, eventually escaping their own canvas and landing in his abandoned studio where other works have also been left. Venturing through a few lively painted worlds but finding no clues as to their creator’s whereabouts, they endeavor to solve their painting’s oppressive class issues another way.

With an overly simplistic, repetitive script, uneven pacing, and a plot that stretches thin even over the film’s scant 76 minute runtime, The Painting is unfortunately not the compelling, dream-fulfilling movie I hoped it might be. It’s for kids, and I get that, but it’s kind of just for kids despite its highbrow source materials. I liked the central character if Lola, who’s a self-confident Halfie who’d rather ask the painter life’s big questions than ask him to finish painting her. The parallels to a God-figure and his creations/acolytes aren’t fully explored, though it’s clear the filmmakers are trying to make some statement about divisive religion and class systems and God’s Plan or whatever. I was content to view it all literally, since I don’t care about God but I do care about art.

The more time passes, the more important art becomes to me. I do it, I study it, I plan to make it my life’s work, and this all-encompassing obsession is why films like The Painting will always capture my imagination. The immersive animated world created by Jean-Fran├žois Laguionie is absolutely enticing for an art history nerd, especially a Modernist. Sly nods to Modern heavyweights like Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso abound, and the variety of color schemes and design styles makes for an exciting and eclectic visual experience. I loved the painterly, at-times amorphous scenery, and the wild abandon with which color is employed. The concept of artistic creations interacting with their maker is fascinating to me, so I liked the little coda of Lola finally finding her painter (even if visually it looked terrible) and setting out to explore the world beyond what was created to contain her. But I do wish that idea had been explore further, or maybe handled differently. I have this feeling that with a different script and tone this film could be all the art historian in me could want in a movie, but I guess I’ll have to keep looking.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Some of the concepts and visual ingenuity reminded me of MirrorMask, which would be a nice atmospheric pairing, but animation-wise I think The Secret of Kells would make for a nice double feature. Or if you want another example of creators interacting with their creations, there’s always Cool World. Or Monkeybone!

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