Surviving Picasso (1996) Dir. James Ivory
Where is the line between love and abuse? Why does a young and intelligent woman let herself be trapped in an abusive relationship? How can an abuser be toxic to everyone around him and at the same time alluring? One woman’s journey through being put down and diminished to liberated and empowered.
Picasso (Anthony Hopkins) expresses thousands of emotions through his art, but not in life. He never talks about love. He doesn’t offer any love or companionship. He is always involved with one or more women. He feels no responsibility for the lives and feelings of his partners. Picasso portrayed here mentally abuses all his women, traps them, binds them to him. Françoise (Natascha McElhone) is one of them. Françoise, a young and talented painter, becomes attracted to the genius of Picasso like a moth to candlelight. Both her beauty and brains interest him. He soon demands her love and takes possession of her. He makes it impossible for her to leave, both logistically and psychologically. He convinces her she is worthless without him, she wouldn’t make it on her own. He did that to every other woman he was with. They all sacrificed their lives for him. They waited for him. Françoise chooses differently. Françoise survives him.
Françoise is fragile and naïve in her youth. Yet, unlike other girlfriends of Picasso, she does not take possession of Picasso. She never argues she’s the one – the first one, the most important one. They all make that mistake. And we meet quite a lot of them here. For this reason, Picasso gets fed up with them and moves on to the next girlfriend. Cruel, heartless, and egotistic. Yet, for some reason, still irresistible. It takes Françoise ten years and two kids with Picasso to leave him. In retrospect, she left her abusive father in the same way – found her courage one day and walked out the door (ironically, to fall into the hands of abusive Picasso). Picasso tries more verbal abuse to change her mind, predicts (or wishes) she would be back after a week. It becomes clear it is Picasso who can’t live without her. He needs her more than she needs him. He is always with a woman. He doesn’t know how to be on his own, whereas she welcomes it for the first time in her life.
The movie focuses mainly on Françoise, but it also sheds light on Picasso’s toxic relationships, how easy it was for him to mistreat his family, friends, and agents. Every person has a story. Every artist has a story. Art grows out of those stories. Whether we condemn them or condone them, at the end of the day, the art survives it all.
Long days, pleasant nights,