Gauguin in Tahiti: Paradise Lost film review

Te Pape Nave Nave (Delectable Waters).
Te Pape Nave Nave (Delectable Waters).

THE latest from the Exhibition on Screen series, Gauguin in Tahiti: Paradise Lost is a sumptuous exploration of the life of a painter strongly associated with exotic images of a far-away, idealised land.

In 1891, the French artist Paul Gauguin left Marseille for the Pacific, fuelled by tales of the beauty of the landscapes, particularly the (scantily clad) women of French Polynesia, and the simple but meaningful lifestyles they pursued.

This somewhat naive vision was challenged immediately on arrival in Tahiti, which had succumbed to the strictures of colonialism including the now religious women forced to cover up their virtue.

If all this sounds a little queasy, there is no escaping that the artist appears to have made these people into what he wanted to impose on them; a kind of creative colonisation of his own.

Breton Girls Dancing – Pont-Aven 1888

Yet he didn’t merely take from the culture he was observing.

His subsequent adventures through Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands reinforced and challenged his ideas and he spent significant time studying the ways of its peoples.

Presumably, it is this immersion and the impression it made on him that imbues his work with the verisimilitude that makes him highly prized among elite private collectors, galleries and museums.

The documentary is enhanced with superb cinematography of Pacific locations, as well as taking in Paris, Bretagne, Edinburgh and the art museums of the United States, where most of his masterpieces are preserved.

You will be under no illusions as to the intoxication that must have been felt by a creative force like Gauguin in the worlds he observed and immersed himself in.

The Essentials:

Gauguin in Tahiti: Paradise Lost

Directed by: Claudio Poli

Narrated by: Adriano Giannini (Italian with English subtitles)

Reviewed by: Martin Turner

4 stars

In cinemas May 18, 19 and 21