Two star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, have become Agostino and Artemisia. Too bad they were never in love. Too bad Juliet was one of the first acclaimed female artists and Romeo was a rapist. Artemisia, the 1997 French film directed by Agnès Merlet, claims to be based on the life story of the 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Valentina Cervi). Following the period of her life when she studied with the painter Agostino Tassi (Miki Manojlovic), the film shows the sexual and creative "awakening" of a young female painter.
It seems odd that any director would chose to direct and participate in the writing of a story that twists the truth of such a progressive female artist. The story turns Artemisia's rape into love and concentrates on her youth, rather than the later part of her life where she became the first woman ever commissioned for her paintings. Merlet seems to have had a more monetary motive than one of presenting the life of a great artist. And if sex sells, this movie should have leaped to the top of the charts. The opening scenes show Artemisia feverishly painting nude portraits of herself, by candlelight. This scene doesn't show us her work, but rather her skin, leaving us to later see fleeting glances of the paintings as they are shown to her father. The film then proceeds to unfold her obsession for painting the nude male body, an act forbidden by the Church. This is followed by little painting and lots of seduction with her tutor, Agostino. Her father, Orazio Gentileschi (Michel Serrault), discovers their relationship and Agostino is arrested for the rape of Artemisia. Instead of showing Artemisia being tortured for saying she had been raped, she is tortured for not saying it. This tactic leaves Agostino as a hero, putting love before his own well being, although it is said he only served 2 years in jail.
Aside from nudity and historical inaccuracies, the film is mediocre. The scenery and landscape is beautiful, set on the French coast, but the shots often miss the skill that is found in films that flow from shot to shot. During the courtroom scene, a distorted lens is used to show Artemisia is feeling overwhelmed. This technique does not fit in with the rest of the film, and distracts from the plot and the scene.
One redeeming quality is Cervi's acting. Using her beauty and bright eyes along with her talent, she has done her best to deal with a cliché and unintelligent script. Serrault's acting is also believable, but perhaps only in comparison to the fumbling of Manojlovic and his character. Its difficult to tell if anything in this film is actually good or if it is just better than the atrocities filling the rest of the film.
Our Romeo and Juliet don't kill themselves in this film, but the quality of Artemisia is just as tragic.