on May 08, 1998 by by Craig Vickers
Set during 1610 in Rome, "Artemisia" is Agnes Merlet's biopic about Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few known female painters of the Italian Baroque, who is primarily known today for her painting Judith Decapitating Holopherne. Little is known about her life, except that she was the daughter of the well-known painter Orazio Gentileschi, and that her father accused fellow artist Agostino Tassi of raping his daughter. Very little of the trial's recorded evidence survives.
Merlet depicts this time in Artemisia's life as one of both artistic and sexual awakening, and the resulting film is decidedly mixed. In Merlet's version, Artemisia (Valentina Cervi) is denied access to study painting at male-dominated schools. Her father Orazio (Michel Serrault) recognizes her talent, and she eventually becomes the pupil of Tassi (Miki Manojlovic), a daunting, profligate man who spends his evenings indulging in orgies at the local brothel. Artemisia, who has taken to spying on Tassi, is at first intrigued and then infatuated with the artist. He teaches her about perspective in painting and, unfortunately for the film, the ways of passion.
On the positive side, the film's portrayal of the social mores of 17th-century Italy are rendered convincingly, and Merlet gets fine performances from Serrault and Manojlovic. But when Merlet ventures into the bedroom, "Artemisia" becomes a trite romance with pretty costumes. Merlet seems more concerned about the termination of a grand love affair rather than the plight of a ground-breaking woman artist living in repressive times. Starring Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault and Miki Manojlovic. Directed by Agnes Merlet. Written by Agnes Merlet, Christine Mille and Patrick Amos. Produced by Patrice Haddad. Drama. French-language with English subtitles. A Miramax release. Rated R on appeal for strong, graphic sexuality and nudity. Running time: 102 min.
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