Synopsis by Nathan Southern
Raúl Ruiz's Klimt uses an amorphous, nonchronological narrative to cinematize events from the life of one of the 20th century's most profound artists: the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (here portrayed by John Malkovich). Ruiz begins with Klimt's painful death from syphilis, and spends the remainder of the film transitioning, loosely and freely, between episodes that befell the painter. The film pays particularly strong attention to the artist's proclivity for scandalizing the European upper crust with overtly erotic subject matter and presentation, and his many affairs -- notably a lengthy one with his perpetual inspiration, Lea de Castro (Saffron Burrows). Throughout Klimt's life, a figure known as the Secretary (Stephen Dillane) comes and goes, who is actually a product of his fevered imagination -- and with whom the painter debates continually about the function of art in contemporary Western civilization, and the relevance of the artist. This enables Ruiz to create both a biographical sketch and a philosophical treatise. Visually, Ruiz and director of photography Ricardo Aronovich make the ambitious decision to recreate Klimt's style of painting on a cinematographic plane. Unfortunately, difficulty befell this picture from the beginning, when the director (for some unascertainable reason) opted to draft the initial script in French, have it translated into German, and then have the German draft translated into English and revised by author Gilbert Adair -- rendering the dialogue stilted and unconvincing. Complications also arose on the distribution end. Still infuriated by the distributive mutilation that befell his previous film, the whopping Time Regained (and doubtless concerned that this might happen again), Ruiz pliantly struck a bargain with distributors for Klimt. He trimmed his original, 135-minute "director's cut" down to a 96-minute "producer's cut" for general consumption, which rendered much of the material less fluid and coherent. Both versions screened at the 2006 Rotterdam Film Festival.