After their brilliant collaborations on Howards End
and The Remains of the Day
, director James Ivory and Anthony Hopkins reunited (along with producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) for this controversial film about the life and loves of the great artist Pablo Picasso. Hopkins is outstanding in the title role, portraying Picasso as a brilliant, manipulative egotist who used his power over women to fuel his artistic impulse and voracious sexual appetite.
But Surviving Picasso is not intended to be a screen biography and, as many critics noted in mixed reviews, this 1996 film fails to provide any substantial insight into Picasso's complex personality. It's more about Françoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone), the aspiring artist who was one of the few women to "survive" Picasso's love and emerge as a stronger, more confident person with a life of her own outside of Picasso's often destructive sphere of influence. McElhone is impressive in this breakthrough role, conveying the seductive effect Picasso had on women, but also holding her own against the artist's unpredictable temperament.
Surviving Picasso was based on the unflattering book Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Huffington, so the Merchant-Ivory team did not have the cooperation of Picasso's estate. The result is a film that shifts its focus away from the artist and onto his positive and negative effect on those who entered his inner circle. It's a fascinating portrait of a fascinating man and his equally passionate lovers, fueled by excellent performances. Even though you know you're not getting the whole story of Picasso's best and worst behavior, the movie grabs and holds your attention. --Jeff Shannon