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Cannes 2014. Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner"

A lengthy somewhat-biopic of British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner is in Competition in Cannes.

The flaccidity of the expansive slice of life by British master director Mike Leigh of British master painter J.M.W. Turner is both livened and dead-weighted by so much ham on screen it achieves something near a lowbrow kinship to the subtle extravagances of Turner's grandiose visions of light. Grunting and rutting like a wild boar, Timothy Spall's Turner is an obstinate silent rover, unable to settle in love or with light, but his gruff, throaty utterances and tensing hands-behind-back tell only of a surface level loneliness and dissatisfaction with the life around him. Energetic and prickly are any and all scenes where attitudes collide: several interactions and arguments at the stuffy Academy and in a patron's drawing room take Turner out of the droll cruelty and pugnacious charm of his relationships with two women—a long time servant and the landlady of a house he rents on repeated painting excursions—and into a field of social battle more befit for the broad caricature at play. As such, the mincing monologues of a young aesthete energize the mise en scène far better than the repeated shots of Turner standing, walking, or sketching in what must be connoted as Turner-inspiring-light captured in a format he would have liked, digital cinema. The score, by Gary Yershon, was, unlike the film, always surprising and working in an unsettling, subtle dissonant key pointing towards an inner life of the artist one would be hard-pressed to find unless able to excavate Spall's tremendous scowling exterior. 

Cheers – this film and I will remain good strangers .
As often with Leigh there is a tendency towards caricature, and i wanted a more nuanced approach for Turner, an artist I’ve admired a lot since I was a kid, but I thought the low point was the portrayal of Ruskin, who was after all a great and influential art critic, not merely a mincing aesthete. I enjoyed the first half very much, for its textures, settings and convincing feel for period (quite fascinating “slice of life”!), but the 2nd did wind down. The lack of dramatic highlights need not be taken as a fault though, but maybe as a reflection on decay and the ageing process. Most impressive were the use of colours, décor and some beautiful cinematography, including a lovely scene for the famous Fighting Temeraire painting. Unlike Hollywood we have a protagonist portrayed as (probably) uglier than the real life character. Was Turner really so gruff, rough and unattractive? In any event he was one of the greatest English geniuses. Though it had its faults and i wanted something magnificent to do Turner justice I would be quite happy to see it again.
Thanks for sharing, Kenji! At Cannes I didn’t find it much to look at, but that could have been the DCP…or me! Greg Gerke wrote about the film’s art critic here:

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