Surviving Picasso is a 1996 Merchant Ivory Film starring Anthony Hopkins as the painter Pablo Picasso. It was shot in Paris and southern France. It was directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant and David L. Wolper. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay was loosely based on the biography Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. The film starts with a young woman named Françoise meeting Picasso in Paris during the Nazi occupation of the city, where Picasso is complaining that people broke into his house and stole his linen, rather than his paintings. It shows Françoise being beaten by her father after telling him she wants to be a painter, rather than a lawyer. Picasso is shown as often not caring about other people's feelings, firing his driver after a long period of service, and as a womanizer, saying that he can sleep with whomever he wants. The film is seen through the eyes of his lover Françoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone).
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!