(director: Henning Carlsen; screenwriters: Christopher Hampton/story by Henning Carlsen & Jean-Claude Carrière; cinematographer: Mikael Salomon; editor: Janus Billeskov Jansen; music: Roger Bourland; cast: Donald Sutherland (Paul Gauguin), Max Von Sydow (August Strindberg), Valerie Morea (Annah), Merete Voldstedlund (Mette Gauguin, his wife), Fanny Bastien (Juliette Huet), Sofie Graboel (Judith Molard), Jean Yanne (William Molard), Ghita Norby (Ida Molard), Henrik Larsen (Julien Leclercq), Jørgen Reenberg (Eduard Brandes); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Henning Carlsen; International Film Marketing; 1986-Denmark/France-in English and French, with English subtitles)
Celebrates Gauguin’s manly behavior as much as it does his art.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Danish filmmaker Henning Carlsen (“A Happy Divorce”/”Pan”/”I Wonder Who’s Kissing You Now“) directs this prickly biopic based on the life of French artistPaul Gauguin (Donald Sutherland). It deals with the middle-aged Gauguin’s return to Paris from Tahiti in 1893, with a cart load of paintings and plans to raise money selling these paintings for an extended stay in the South Seas. His return home brings about one disturbing face-to-face in Denmark with his unforgiving Danish wife (Merete Voldstedlund), whom he deserted after siring five children with her.

Gauguin’s arrogance (not his confidence) is dented when his show is a bust. But at least the great painter Degas buys one of his paintings: telling his fellow artist that he paints like a wolf. In Paris, Gauguin hangs with other impoverished free-spirited artists and with the witty eccentric Swedish writer August Strindberg (Max von Sydow). Gauguin also must deal with a number of women—his untrustworthy Javanese model Annah (Valerie Morea), his French mistress (Fanny Bastien), with whom he sired one child, and a 14-year-old neighbor Ida Molard (Ghita Norby) who has a schoolgirl crush on the older man and at times acts as narrator to explain the artist’s thoughts.

The movie celebrates Gauguin’s manly behavior as much as it does his art, as it shows him painting, whoring, drinking and brawling. Left destitute in Paris after two years, it covers up to Gauguin’s subsequent trip back to Tahiti in 1895 and return to his 13-year-old native wife.

It’s based on the story by Carlsen & Jean-Claude Carrière, and is written by Christopher Hampton. The writer paints Gauguin as the wolf in both painting (the wolf does not wear a collar like a dog) and with the ladies, as the title is double-edged. The pic tells us only what we already knew of him, nothing new here, but somehow gets us to thinking about the high price he paid to be a bohemian and in a comical way covers his mid-life journey. It never gets inside Gauguin’s head as to what makes him a genius artist, yet it delights us with what a wonderful rogue he was and how he daringly spurned conventional mores to live only for his art.

The Wolf at the Door Poster