Review: Montparnasse 19

Blu-ray & DVD: Montparnasse 19 (1958)

Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani (Gérard Philipe), leads the typical bohemian artiste existence in Paris, and in between drinking himself to a stupor, and having sex with most of the women he knows, he paints, but is unable to sell any of his work due to his style.

I’d actually never heard of this French made film before, so was rather interested to see it as my knowledge of Modigliani was minimal. Made in 1958 this is rather shocking for a contemporary UK release (I wonder if it were ever released in the UK at that time?), as we see him beat his girlfriend Beatrice (Lilli Palmer) to the floor, and there are several mentions of sexual activity and also pubic hair. I doubt if anyone in Wales in 1958 knew it had a name, never mind put it in a film!

The film examines his love affair with Jeanne Hebuterne (Anouk Aimée who is gorgeous, but can’t hold a candle to the beauty of the real Jeanne), a young artist he meets and marries, and of course his descent into alcoholism. It’s a story similar to Van Gogh’s; some madness, alcohol, sex and a raging but unrecognised talent. If it had been a Hollywood film (like Lust for Life) it would have been all bright colours and sweeping music, but this is far different, black and white and perhaps frosty in its outlook, there is no hope in this film and although it’s a good film, it’s rather depressing and there are several occurrences when you think ‘This is it! Things are looking up’! But nope, they’re still shit.

Interestingly, this is another historical story where the truth is better than the fiction. Modigliani didn’t die of alcoholism (though he possibly was an alcoholic) but rather Tuberculosis aged 35. And tragically his young pregnant wife Jeanne, overcome with grief threw herself from her father’s 5th floor house and died killing the unborn child too; they already had one daughter, who didn’t get a mention in the film.

The extras include two documentaries about the making of the film, and I admit I would have rather have seen a documentary about the artist Modigliani instead.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, from materials supplied by Gaumont
  • Original 1.0 mono sound
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Jacques Becker and the Artistic Condition, a 55-minute documentary on the making of Montparnasse 19 featuring interviews with Anouk Aimée, Françoise Fabian and Jean Becker
  • Newly filmed appreciation of the film by Ginette Vincendeau, author of The BFI Companion to French Cinema and Paris in the Cinema: Beyond the Flâneur
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

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Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Arrow Films.