I, Claude Monet

Movie Information

The latest "Exhibition on Screen" installment abandons the formula that made its predecessors so entertaining and insightful.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Phil Grabsky
Starring: Henry Goodman
Rated: NR

The full title of this documentary about the French Impressionist painter could have been, I, Claude Monet, Ask You for Money. The film pieces together excerpts from Monet’s letters, from his 20s into his 80s, to recount the story of his life and works. Problem is, either Monet didn’t write much about how he came to be in each successive situation, much less about the thought process behind his work, or else the director, Phil Grabsky, chose passages that are curiously unilluminating. Instead, the first-person narration is mostly pleas for cash. (Actor Henry Goodman does an admirable job providing Monet’s voice.)

Why isn’t Monet able to sell the paintings he churns out four at a time? How does he get from Paris to London to Argenteuil (where many of his most famous works were created)? What was his relationship with his fellow artists who came to be known as the Impressionists — other than asking for handouts? Don’t expect any answers.

A deep dive into correspondence isn’t a terrible idea for approaching an artist, but Monet’s letters seem pedestrian and without self-reflection. So as both masterpieces and lesser-known paintings parade past, one after another (identified by title and date), we learn nothing new about any of them. The crisp, colorful footage of what Monet’s haunts look like today is interesting but doesn’t correspond to the voiceover.

Perhaps if you’re well-versed in the biography, philosophy and artistic evolution of Monet, this Exhibition on Screen installment could offer you some fresh angles. But unlike most of the films in this series, there’s no actual exhibition to anchor the proceedings and no curators to provide expert analysis and historical context. It’s really just a series of spectacular paintings viewed while a man complains incessantly about his life.

Available to rent starting Sept. 4 via FineArtsTheatre.com.


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