If you learn only one thing while watching Surviving Picasso, it will probably be this: Pablo Picasso was a big fat jerk.
Unfortunately, that’s about all you’ll learn, as Merchant-Ivory’s latest exercise in excess sheds little light on the great artiste and leaves the viewer with even less of an understanding as to why Picasso was the man he was.
Anthony Hopkins is the obvious choice for Picasso, and the film takes the track of vaguely following Picasso’s life along with his many, many love interests, including the psychotic Dora Maar (Julianne Moore in a fantastic performance), his wife Olga (Jeanne Lapotaire), a couple of other relationships, plus the mysterious Francoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone), who suffered with Pablo for some ten years. (All of the women perform their roles admirably.)
What the film doesn’t do is show you any insight into Picasso’s life, except for the fact that he was stingy, paranoid, stubborn, and basically a lech. The movie’s liberal use of voice-over and thick accents doesn’t help matters, and this already cryptic tale becomes even more inaccessible — not only is it hard to understand what this movie is really about, it’s hard to understand what anyone is saying.
As played by Hopkins, Picasso is transformed into a childish goon with no redeeming qualities, and given Surviving Picasso‘s 123 minute running time, this gets extremely tiresome, extremely quickly. For the last 1 1/2 hours, I was really just waiting for the credits. So I guess we’ll never really understand what Picasso was all about.
The sad result is that, in the end, Surviving Picasso is really just one long exercise in survival itself.
One happy family!