Walking on Water: Monet documentary a masterpiece of light and shade

Impression sunrise 1872 by Claude Monet
Impression sunrise 1872 by Claude Monet

Water Lilies of Monet: The Magic of Water and Light

Directed by: Giovanni Troilo

Starring: Elisa Lasowski, Ross King

4.5 stars

Reviewed by: Martin Turner

In cinemas: March 24, 26

The great artist Paul Cezanne said of the great, great artist Claude Monet, “Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye.”

And what an eyeful this documentary of his life and work is, culminating in his most ambitious undertaking: The Grand Décoration – huge panels depicting his water lily pond at his garden in Giverny.

The film is narrated largely by Game of Thrones actress Elisa Lasowski, with the participation of author Ross King, as well as a gardener at the famed estate. Lasowksi brings a quietly passionate, not over-polished quality to the film as we meander down the Seine in all its varied beauty, a water system Monet was never far from.

The documentary benefits from the artist living through the revolutions in photography and film, so that there is just enough live footage to bring him to life, while beautifully edited shots of depictions of Monet enhance his work and personality.

It’s ironic that the Impressionist movement of which he was a leading light is actually named for a misnomer from a critic unimpressed by the group’s first exhibition in 1874.

But one could also get the wrong impression of Monet from the many shots of the hirsute, avuncular man often depicted in shots at Giverny.

This was a complicated man with a complicated, sprawling life.

He buried two wives, had a long friendship with the French Prime Minister, a devoted patron who drew him out of his abandonment of art, lived through World War I, fought outrageous battles with the farmers of Giverny, who hated the way he used the land. The last phase of his artistic life was done with failing eyesight, creating a grand artistic struggle.

It’s hard to imagine doing art history better than this. There is little dwelling on the facts, such as they are. It’s all about the art. And what art it is. Monet once hurled himself and his work in the Seine in disgust. But viewers will feel more like immersing themselves in a baptism of sheer beauty and creativity. This is more than worth diving into.