Surviving Picasso brings more to light than a mere movie review

Surviving Picasso, need the title of this movie be more descriptive?  To survive is to remain alive or existent. To Survive Picasso, famed abstract artist of the 20th century is a story of personal triumph and personal growth.

Francoise Gilot, a self-proclaimed young painter, living in Paris, has a chance meeting with the famous, charismatic, and womanizing Pablo Picasso in 1943. Francoise’s chance meeting with Picasso fills her with the feeling of intrigue; amid her liberation from that of a controlling father. He had planned her life to be a duplicate of his own. Upon telling her father, she has decided to quit school and paint full time her father forbids her to disobey his orders and to stay in school and proceed on to law school. She insists on her plans, even during her father's explosive fit of anger. He threatens to disown her and have her committed because she is crazy. When his threats have failed, he finds her at his mother’s home, Francoise’s grandmother, and beats her until her grandmother throws him out. He disowns them both and not again seen for many, many years to come.

Picasso, an egocentric, arrogant, and controlling man, invites Francoise and her friend to his studio to see his work. Everyone in Picasso’s circle has seen this scene a hundred times before, young, naïve women enamored by the GREAT PICASSO. When Francoise returns for a second visit, Sabartes, Picassos’ assistant, warns her not to get involved with Picasso. For many women filled Picasso’s life and he controlled and manipulated them all. She dismisses Sabarte's warning and continues to pursue a relationship with Picasso. Soon, Picasso offers Francoise a place to live, “he offers her the opportunity to paint all day, and he will bring her food two times a day, they will go out at night in disguise - she will be his secret-his private captive.”  To paint all day is a dream for Francoise. She wants to grow as an artist, grow as a painter, and who better to learn from than Picasso.

This film emphasized Picasso’s relationships and how these relationships essentially affected his art and career. His paintings accurately reflect his true feelings about the women in his life. As Francoise quoted, “new affairs could not be kept secret because it showed up in his work.” At the beginning of the relationship, his women were objects of beauty, sensuality, and serenity as he became bored with the relationship he depicted them as ugly, nagging objects to be discarded. Olga, Picasso’s first wife, was painted as a beautiful dancer, and in the end, she was depicted as a nagging, middle-aged woman he detested.  Many more women in his life were depicted in his work, but the only person to not become ugly in Picasso’s eyes was Francoise. He painted her as a beautiful flower, and at the end of their 10-year relationship, he painted an ugly sight of a cock hanging upside down, its’ neck slashed by a knife and dripping blood into a bowl. Picasso explains, to Kahnweiler, his oldest art dealer and Francoise that he, Picasso, is the cock, and Francoise is the knife. “His perception of Francoise never changed, her perception changed him, and it hurt him very deeply.” 

This film also emphasized Francoise’s desire to grow as an artist. As manipulative and controlling as Picasso could be, he offered Francoise much support and guidance in her development as an artist.  Encouraging her to experiment, with her vision, to come into her own as an artist and not duplicate anyone, even Picasso. In a strange twist of events, Francoise seems to have unconsciously used her relationship with Picasso as a way to avoid her artistic responsibility. Slowly as the relationship continued, Francoise became more and more a slave to Picasso’s every request. He moved her and the children to the country away from others, away from him. It was not until Francoise’s grandmother died did the control of Picasso become so evident. Fearful of Picasso, Francoise felt she could not go to Paris to her own Grandmother’s funeral. She could not avoid who and what she had become any longer. Picasso never really took lovers, instead, he took hostages.

The artistic process is wonderfully and explicitly depicted in one scene. Francoise brings Picasso food and drinks, asking him if he is tired, for he has been painting nine straight hours. His reply from the movie says it all “I leave my body at the door, the way Muslims take off their shoes before entering a mosque.” He continues in the conversation explaining the development of his works as he turns on the spotlights because it is dark outside. “I love these spotlights; I even prefer them to natural light. They set off every object. You’ll find the deep shadows they make in most of my still lives because most were painted at night.”

“Painting is stronger than I am. It makes me do what it wants. Holds the brush, doesn’t seem to obey my brain, but something else over which I have no control”.  Picasso begins to explain the painting he has been working on, “Now look at this; obviously it’s a woman. It’s you in your long black dress; you seem to be turning into a bouquet of flowers or a lilac bush, very mysterious. I think I’ve painted one thing and it’s another. I’ve become so fatalistic I think if it’s blue, it’s a woman, if it has a beard it’s a man. I make a lot of mistakes, and so does God. He makes a dachshund, and then an elephant, a squirrel, whale, like me. He’s tried everything, like me.” Picasso does not believe in God, yet compares himself to God throughout the movie.  I think that Picasso was a man of great fear, fear of himself, and his immortality.

I liked the movie very much, yet what it brought up in me emotionally was unexpected. The pain of living with a manipulative and controlling man runs deep, and the wounds are hard to heal. I saw this movie more about Francoise’s enlightenment. Francoise saved herself, her children and was even able to become a true friend to Picasso.

The final scene of the movie says it all. Francoise rides into the bullfight ring on a beautiful horse in honor of Picasso. The bullfight dedicated to Picasso, and he asked Francoise to open the show. To Francoise, this was her tribute to a man that gave her so much. The expression of personal enlightenment and triumph is here; she can see, feel and believe that Picasso, is Picasso, with all his good and bad traits, she still loves him and is thankful to him for all he has taught her. Yet loving him does not mean giving her life through losing herself for him.


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