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(1998) (Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault) (R)

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Drama: A young woman in early 17th century Italy breaks tradition by becoming the first commissioned female artist in the world.
Artemisia Gentileschi (VALENTINA CERVI) is a seventeen-year-old woman growing up in early 17th century Italy. Inheriting her passion for painting from Orazio (MICHEL SERRAULT), her famous artist father, Artemisia desperately wants to become an artist as well, but in that time and day, women aren't permitted to study art. Even so, Artemisia continues with her work, a passion strengthened after seeing Agostino Tassi (MIKI MANOJLOVIC), a ground breaking artist, working on the beach.

Since Orazio and Tassi are jointly painting religious frescos in a local church, Artemisia persuades her father to get Tassi to tutor her in furthering her skills. Tassi reluctantly agrees, and eventually he and Artemisia become attracted to one another and begin a passionate affair. When Orazio learns of this he's outraged and sets out not only to break up this illicit union, but also to punish Tassi for betraying Orazio's trust in him with his daughter.

It's not very likely.
The reason was not available, but we're certain it's for several sexual encounters and a great deal of full nudity (and was reedited on appeal from its original NC-17 rating).
  • VALENTINA CERVI plays a woman whose passion for art and painting is equaled only by her interest in sexuality. Extremely talented as an artist, she is also quite liberated for her day. She paints nude models, watches others having sex, and then has her own affair with her tutor.
  • MICHEL SERRAULT plays Artemisia's father, a talented artist himself. Wanting only the best for his daughter, he's outraged when he learns that his colleague is involved in a sexual affair with her.
  • MIKI MANOJLOVIC plays another talented artist who reluctantly agrees to tutor Artemisia. Soon, however, his feelings turn to romance and he begins an affair with a seventeen-year-old woman.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Artists -- no matter what their medium -- are usually quite passionate about their work and life in general. If one is to learn anything from Agnes Merlet's mostly imagined account of famed Renaissance painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, it's that she was a very passionate young woman living in a very passionate time. Featuring enough sex and nudity to nearly quality as a soft core porn film -- if not for the film's own redeeming artistic qualities -- it's surprising that these artists had any time to paint. (The film had initially received an NC-17 rating until lead actress Valentina Cervi appealed to the MPAA board herself -- evidently her plea was also very passionate).

    In fact, the film focuses nearly as much attention on these "extracurricular" activities as it does on Artemisia -- the first women in history to be commissioned as an artist -- pursuing her craft. We never really learn much about what drove the real life woman to draw and paint-- other than her instinctual God given gift -- and the film most likely would have benefitted from such insights.

    For a film about a painter, it's somewhat surprising that we don't see more of her paintings. We briefly see her famous "Judith Beheading Holofemis" -- a painting of two women beheading a man on a bed that reportedly inspired director Merlet to make this film -- but we never learn anything about what inspired her to paint it. Instead, we're left to guess at that on our own and what we come up with is that she was upset about living in a male dominated world.

    That's really what this film is about. Artemisia must first contend with not being able to see or paint nude male models (as can every other artist) and her inability to be accepted into art school based on her gender. Finally, she must suffer through a humiliating court trial that essentially ruins her life and brands her a "loose" woman.

    It's that whole last bit -- whether historically accurate or not -- that doesn't work well in the film. Not only does the court trial severely change the tone of the movie, but the entire proceedings feel forced and haphazard. It's as if many important scenes were left on the cutting room floor or were never shot at all. An example is the brief scene where Tassi's sister shows up out of nowhere and drops an informational bombshell during the case. While dramatically effective as it adds a plot complication, its suddenness and brevity don't gel with the rest of the film, and we never learn why Tassi tries to attack her immediately upon seeing her.

    Technically, the film looks wonderful, as Merlet ("The Son Of The Shark") has apparently and carefully selected the scene composition and color and lighting schemes to be reminiscent of classic Renaissance paintings. Additionally, there's enough footage of the artists' traditional painting techniques -- ropes holding up models' extended arms, screens used to divide a vast visual subject area into smaller, more manageable units, and scenes of painting church frescoes to satisfy the fellow painters in the audience.

    Yet, the film never manages to capture the artists' passions and make us feel that way with them, like the fabulous "Big Night" did for cooking. The film is easy and pleasant enough to watch, but you never get involved and the only reason your pulse might increase is by seeing the many nude bodies or rather explicit sexual encounters.

    The performances are good across the board with the standout being Valentina Cervi ("Portrait Of A Lady") as the film's young protagonist. Since the film contains less than the average amount of dialogue found in a typical movie, much has to be expressed by looks and gestures, and Cervi excels at this. Michael Serrault and Miki Manojlovic, as Artemisia's father and lover respectively, also deliver decent performances and seem quite natural in their given roles.

    While there is the question of how much artistic liberty Merlet has taken with this story (there are only sketchy historical records from the time), most mainstream audiences will be more interested in, and/or upset by, the film's rampant nudity and its few, but explicit, sexual encounters. Although that may dissuade the average moviegoer from seeing this film, it shouldn't have much impact on the art house crowd who might just be pleased with this sumptuous looking production. We only wish that it went deeper into the passion of painting and drawing and further explored what really drove this woman who became the first true female artist in the world. We give "Artemisia" a 5.5 out of 10.

    The explicit sex scenes and many instances of full frontal nudity will obviously be of the greatest concern to most parents and other viewers as well. Several sexual encounters occur and some of them are quite explicit. One, involving a couple on the beach contains nudity and graphic movement, while another involves an orgy with plenty of participants, nudity and movement. Besides that, there are other instances of male and female full frontal (and rear) nudity in other sexual situations, but mainly in nonsexual artistic settings.

    Beyond all of that, there's the fact that an older man has an affair with a seventeen-year-old, and we do witness one torture scene where a rope -- bound around and between a woman's fingers -- is tightened enough to draw some blood in an attempt to make her speak the truth. Other than that, the rest of the other categories are mostly void of any major objectionable material. Even so, due to the extreme and explicit sexual scenes and nudity, we strongly suggest that you read through the scene listings should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.

  • Some people drink wine with dinner.
  • People in an orgy drink wine.
  • Orazio has wine.
  • In a painting we see some blood coming out from a man's neck after a sword has apparently cut him there.
  • Artemisia has some blood on her fingertips after losing her virginity to Tassi.
  • We do witness a torture scene where a rope -- bound around and between Artemisia's fingers -- is tightened enough to draw some blood in an attempt to make her speak the truth.
  • Although he claims that he loves her, Tassi has a sexual affair with Artemisia who is only seventeen, and then won't agree to marry her (the only way to save her reputation).
  • Some may see Artemisia as having both for bucking the traditions of the time and for wanting to paint nude male models.
  • Artemisia discreetly takes a candle from a church (that she then uses at home to paint by).
  • Artemisia lies about being a virgin during a court proceeding.
  • We learn that Tassi didn't tell Artemisia the entire truth about his marital status.
  • Not scary, but a little tense, two nuns examine Artemisia to see if she's a virgin as she claims, and we see the two women spread the young woman's legs apart. Artemisia then seems to feel pain from their examination (we don't see anything).
  • We briefly see Artemisia's distorted vision during some sort of brief nervous attack.
  • We do witness a torture scene where a rope -- bound around and between Artemisia's fingers -- is tightened enough to draw some blood in an attempt to make her speak the truth.
  • Sword: Seen in a painting at a man's throat where some blood is coming out.
  • None.
  • None.
  • A few odd moments contain traditional scary movie music, but nothing frightening occurs during any of them. A few later scenes have some tense chords in them as well.
  • None.
  • None.
  • We see Artemisia's bare breasts (from several angles) as she holds a mirror and sketches herself by candlelight. Later, we see some of those sketches.
  • Fulvio, an acquaintance of Artemisia's, tells her "Your breasts are growing."
  • Artemisia walks by a secluded area on a beach and spots two people having sex in the sand. At first they're seen from a distance, but we do see some movement. She then moves in for a closer look and we also see a closer look, including rather graphic movement of the man (and his bare butt) between the woman's legs, and we also hear some sexual sounds. Later, Artemisia goes to that spot and sees the imprint in the sand of the woman's body and lies down in it herself.
  • We see brief full frontal nudity of a male model posing for a painting.
  • While talking with a woman about her teenage son, Artemisia asks her if the young man can pose naked for her (to paint).
  • Artemisia asks Fulvio whether he'll do a favor for her if she kisses him. He agrees, they kiss, and Artemisia then tells him to take off his clothes. For a moment he believes this to be sexually related, but after standing before her completely nude (full frontal and rear nudity), he realizes she only wants him as a model. When she later examines his body, we see a closer (but not quite close-up) view of his genitals for several seconds.
  • We see full rear and frontal nudity of several women as they walk up as prospective models for a painting and then walk away.
  • Artemisia tells a man (about a painting she's done that's intended to be seen from an extreme angle), "It must be like when you look between your legs -- it's smaller than when you see it in a mirror." The guy then asks how she would know such things since he believes her to be a virgin.
  • Artemisia walks up to a window, looks in, and sees an orgy (many people having sex). Not only do we see movement (from on top and from behind) and nudity (and a man feeling a woman's bare breast), but we also hear sexual sounds. She then goes to another window where she sees Tassi with a woman. Later, we see her sketch of what she remembered seeing.
  • We see more drawings that Artemisia's sketched and see drawings and sketches of male frontal nudity.
  • Tassi and Artemisia passionately kiss and he kisses the tops of her breasts (she's still dressed but in a low-cut dress). He then pulls her dress up, gets between her legs, and thrusts just once with her screaming (as she loses her virginity).
  • Later, Artemisia climbs on top of Tassi and they have sensuous sex (with some movement and her sounds), but only seen from the shoulders up.
  • We see more drawings of nude people, and in one of them, a man's hand is at a woman's crotch.
  • We see Artemisia's bare butt, breasts, and a brief glimpse of full frontal nudity as she quickly gets dressed. Tassi then gets out of bed and we see full frontal and rear nudity on him.
  • Orazio drops by and sees Artemisia (topless, but with her hair covering most of her breasts) and Tassi sitting on his bed looking at paintings.
  • Two nuns examine Artemisia to see if she's a virgin as she claims, and we see the two women spread the young woman's legs apart (but we don't see anything). Afterwards, they motion that she's not a virgin and guess that she's had sex at least ten times.
  • None.
  • Orazio drops by and sees Artemisia (topless, but with her hair covering most of her breasts) and Tassi sitting on his bed looking at paintings. From that point on, Orazio is quite upset with Artemisia, and his criminal pursuit of Tassi drives a deep wedge between himself and his daughter.
  • Tassi isn't happy to see his sister show up at his trial and tries to go after her but is restrained.
  • The historical accuracy -- or artistic liberty -- of this film's representation of the real Artemisia.
  • The sexual activity and use of nude models that occurs during the film.
  • A woman smacks Artemisia after she asks if a teenage boy can pose naked for her (to paint).
  • In a painting we see some blood coming out from a man's neck after a sword has apparently cut him there.
  • Orazio, upset that Artemisia can't get into art school because she's a woman, briefly grabs a male student by the crotch and tells him that (his genitals) is why he can attend art school.
  • Tassi walks up behind Artemisia, and seeing that she's bent over, playfully kicks her to the floor.
  • Artemisia smacks Tassi several times after being surprised about how painful losing her virginity would feel.
  • Upset that Tassi is having an affair with Artemisia, Orazio begins shaking the scaffolding upon which Tassi is standing, but nothing else happens.
  • Orazio slaps Artemisia after she says that Tassi gave her pleasure.
  • We do witness a torture scene where a rope -- bound around and between Artemisia's fingers -- is tightened enough to draw some blood in an attempt to make her speak the truth.

  • Reviewed April 20, 1998

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