If there’s one film that holds its place on my ever-shifting list of the best films of the last decade, it’s Raoul Ruiz’s 1999 Time Regained, a brilliantly stylized visualization of the blurred borders between Proust’s life, art, and social milieu. Klimt, by contrast, feels like a listless grafting of similar strategies—the circular swoops and dives of a camera perpetually in motion, the painter’s delirious deathbed musings as bookends to the action—onto an artist whose work was dismissed by many in his day as oversexed, and by some today as eye candy. Ruiz sets his rehab of Klimt’s ambiguous reputation in the artist’s hometown of fin-de-siécle Vienna (bourgeois, philistine) and Paris (rad, liberating), where, as Marx so beautifully put it, “all that is solid melts into air.” John Malkovich is his usual wry and slightly ponderous self as Gustav Klimt, whose platonic and carnal relationships with dozens of women (primarily the French dancer Lea de Castro, played by the lovely but lightly talented Saffron Burrows) juiced his peacock-gorgeous canvases. But Ruiz is so intent on harnessing the painter to his own (here, rather arid) relativism that he never manages to convey what brings crowds flocking to exhibitions of Klimt’s work, even as the critics hold their noses.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2007