Portrait of the Artist (2014)


A red stain has appeared on the back of director Bertrand, played by the acclaimed real life director Bertrand Bonello. He’s pursuing an image of the monstrous to inspire his new film and it appears to be taking a direct toll. For better and worse Portrait of the Artist follows its own path through the great art works of Paris and Bertrand’s surreal adventures in and around them. It’s odd, frustrating and impressively unique filmmaking.

To secure the concept for his new film, he needs an evocative idea to hang it on. Caught on this idea of the monstrous, Bertrand treks around with a flighty art historian to gaze in confusion and wonder at a series of disorienting images. Director Antoine Barraud is at his very best when facing down these great works. He lingers on them moving the camera up close. Sometimes a character continues to talk over the scenes, other times we all gaze in awe. It is art as it should be, not art as consumption where everyone trails past the greatest hits just to say they’ve done so.

In between pockets of reverence, Bertrand’s bizarre life intrudes. A trusted producer tells him about her 22 year old lover, a strange woman goes into great detail about a painting, and a pitiable journalist frequently falls into silence during two interviews, never quite managing to get his point across. It adds to the surreal world circling Bertrand.

Célia Bhy, his odd art historian companion comes to the fore the longer the film runs on. Disappearing enigmatically and reappearing as a different person (she’s played by both Jeanne Balibar and Géraldine Pailhas), Célia becomes harder to grasp and more compelling as time wears on. A number of sexually charged scenes develop, the air heavy with potential.

In and around this willowy narrative, Barraud delves into the power of art to inspire, and the interchange between different forms. The very real impact of artistic expression shines out in red welts across Bertrand’s back as he starts to become the monstrous form he hunts. Later scenes, particularly the transformation of the journalist into one of the paintings, echoing references to Vertigo earlier, indicate a darker turn.

Portrait of the Artist is an odd film, difficult to pin down and connect together. Not everything works and it sometimes tips itself down the rabbit hole without convincing others to follow. Take a chance though. It’s worth the plunge.

Director: Antoine Barraud
Writer: Antoine Barraud
Stars: Bertrand Bonello, Jeanne Balibar, Géraldine Pailhas
Runtime: 127 min
Country: France

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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