(director/writer: Agnes Merlet; screenwriter: Christine Miller; cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme; editor: Guy Lecorne; cast: Valentina Cervi (Artemisia Gentileschi), Michel Serrault (Orazio), Miki Manojlovic (Agostino Tassi), Luca Zingaretti (Cosimo); Runtime: 96; Miramax Zoe; 1997-Fr./It.)


“I just wish the film had more of an edge.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An emotionally flat but intelligently competent biopic about the first woman who received a commission to be an artist in the modern world, the 17th-century Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi (Cervi). Her major work was accomplished in 1612, “Judith Beheading Holophernes.” She was virtually undiscovered until the 1970s, that is when the feminist movement brought her some recognition as they discovered her work linked to the themes of women suppressed in society. Today some of her work hangs in the Louvre and in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; and, her above named major work hangs in the Offices Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The main thesis of the plot might not be true, since the love affair between the 17-year-old virgin Artemisia and the painter Agostino (Miki) might not have happened. Court documents reveal only that he was charged with rape and there is no evidence of a love affair occurring between them.

Art is linked to sexuality for the ever-curious Artemisia. She is unhappily in a convent school, but soon to be released from that type of purgatory by her materially successful painter-father Orazio (Serrault). He rescues her, going against the grain of that period’s traditional beliefs that a woman’s place is in the home by taking her to work in his artist studio. But following the traditions of the times, he would not let her paint male nudes. Artemisia realizes that she can’t get anywhere without doing what the male painters are doing, so she secretly paints a local fisher-boy in the nude.

When Artemisia feels she has learned all she can from her father she turns to Agostino, who is a friendly rival of her father’s, and implores him to take her on as a pupil. Artemisia falls in love with the Rabelaisian-like Agostino. When this seduction comes to the attention of her very protective and proper father, it leads to a clash of wills between the two adamant men and Artemisia is caught in the middle of a bad situation.

The repressive church enters the picture as the arbitrator of the dispute and settles things in its own inimical authoritative style, torturing the girl to confess that she had been raped; but, getting only a confession of rape out of the beleaguered Agostino, who only confesses to stop them from further torturing Artemisia.

The film is beautiful to watch. Its sense of colors are breathtaking. The attractive Cervi is properly suited for her role, conveying a charming innocence while possessing an erotic look. Serrault added a strong presence to the story, and Agostino was more than adequate as the womanizer with a soft heart.

So why wasn’t I thrilled with this presentation? It is because I didn’t feel any passion about what was happening, it all seemed like “old hat” arguments against repression that seemed politically correct, but left me wondering…so, what else is new! I just wish the film had more of an edge.