Films We’re Watching: Movies about Art

by Alex Hull

COVID has made it difficult for people to go out and view art, either at museums, through travel, or gatherings with others.  However, during and after quarantine, most of us have taken to watching more movies than we have ever before (I have, anyway).  Here are four films that explore art, artists, and art history that I think are worth watching.

The Painter and the Thief (2020) dir. Benjamin Ree

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The Painter and the Thief is a film about an unlikely friendship that begins between a young Czech artist, Barbora Kysilkova, and Karl Bertil-Nordland, a criminal.  When one of Barbora’s paintings is stolen from a gallery, she decides to track down the thief and meets Bertil, the man who stole her painting.  She asks if she can paint his portrait and the finished product changes Bertil’s life from the moment he sees it.  This story is rich with emotion and tension, asking viewers to question art’s value to its viewers, respective artists, and who they dedicate their art to.  This film reveals the more painful sides of the artistic process and the formation of ideas, and the real power that art can have over its viewers.  I wanted to watch this whole film over again immediately once the credits rolled.  Available on Hulu.

Loving Vincent (2017) dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

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This movie submerges you within the mystery surrounding Vincent Van Gogh’s death and one man’s obsession in uncovering the truth.  The story is arranged in a series of meetings with several characters who provide pieces of information about Vincent, which sometimes causes the film to feel slow at times.  However, the animation style, which imitates that of Van Gogh’s paintings, makes the film captivating.  125 painters from around the world worked on painting over the original live-action footage which gives the scenes a unique sense of animated movement.  I appreciated Loving Vincent because it shows how classical methods such as painting can be transformed in unexpected and beautiful ways using modern media like film.  Available on Hulu.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma

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Commissioned in secret, a young painter named Marianne heads to an isolated island to paint Héloïse, a stubborn bride who has refused to pose for her wedding portrait.  The two fall in love as they await Héloïse’s dreaded wedding day.  The film focuses on painting as an act of intimacy and as an instrument of memory.  Art works in the background of this heart-wrenching and impossible love story between two women.  The film asks what it means to hold an authentic image of someone in their mind, as painting becomes a vital, rebellious, and secretive act. Art becomes critical in this story, and the only way Marienne can hold on to Héloïse.  Available on Hulu.

Beyond the Visible––Hilma af Klint (2020) dir. Halina Dyrschka

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Beyond the Visible is a documentary about the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a modernist painter, virtually unknown during her time, who has had a considerable impact on the art world.  Many of her paintings were far ahead of her time, and as specified in her will, none would be shown until twenty years after her death.  Her style includes vibrant colors and often engages elements of geometry.  This documentary looks at her work and personal life, highlighting her interest in science and spiritualism.  I had never heard of Hilma af Klint before, but after watching this documentary, I have found a new favorite artist. Available on Amazon Prime.

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