Politics and Ontology in The Painting

Le Tableau - The PaintingAndrea wrote a teaser of an article over at ALE Designs about the 2011 French film, Le Tableau. In America, the film is called The Painting and so shall I from now on. It tells the story of a group of figures in an unfinished painting. There are the self-proclaimed leaders of the painting, the Allduns, so called because they are “all done.” Then there are the bourgeois called the Halfies, who are not quite finished, some of them only barely so. And then there are the forgotten people, the Sketchies.

The whole movie hinges on a relationship between Ramo (an Alldun) and Claire (a Halfy). And this leads to a journey with Ramo and Claire’s best friend Lola, a Halfy, and Plume, a Sketchy. Their quest is to find the Painter and ask him to finish the painting so that the class distinctions will be ended. The Allduns, for example, argue that the Painter loved them most and that’s why he finished them. This is a retarded notion, but no more retarded than the idea that there is something natural about paying people billions of dollars just because they are especially good at stock trading.

The Allduns from Le Tableau

What happens from there doesn’t much matter. What is important is that the film moves step by step, always getting more interesting. This is truth both in terms of the plot and the theme. What also happens is that the characters get deeper and their relationships expand. The one exception is Ramo and Claire. The screenwriter, Anik Leray, seems to go along with Shakespeare’s theory that young people in love are too boring to dramatize. But that’s just fine here, because the other characters are more than enough fun.

The Painting is more interested in ontological questions than in political questions. But I suspect the filmmakers would say that they are connected. After all, a lot of people turn to God to answer questions about injustice and evil. And just as in life, the characters find that they must answer these questions for themselves. And in the end, there is a social revolution that is brought on primarily by the Sketchies. It’s very sweet, even if it isn’t a solution that would work outside of the world in the painting.

As Andrea noted in her article, it is a beautiful film just to watch. There is much of Modigliani in the work, and as regular readers know, I’m somewhat obsessed with him. Apparently, the director, Jean-Francois Laguionie, wanted to set the period of the painter in the 1920s. So he was thinking of painters around that time including Chagall, Matisse, Derain, Bonnard, and Picasso. I see all that except Picasso, but his work is so varied, I’m sure that is simply my deficiency. But it is so much more than that, even though that is enough.


I will now briefly discuss the ending of the film. If you want to watch the film yourself, skip this part and come back to it when you have because I’m interested in what anyone has to say about any part of the film. I could easily spend all evening talking about it.

At the end of the film, Lola is still interested in finding the Painter. All the other characters are happy with their lives in the improved society of the painting. So Lola sneaks out of the painting and back into the painter’s studio. Throughout the film, the characters have gone into and out of various paintings, meeting many interesting people. But she knows that the Painter must be outside the paintings. So as she looks around the studio, she comes to a hole in the wall that leads outside. As she approaches it, the light streams in and she looks…

What she sees is the Painter outside, painting. And the film has a lot of fun with this. But what I expected to see was devastation: a post-apocalyptic world devoid of people. I told this to Andrea and she thought it was very dark. But I don’t see it that way at all! The Painter will some day die. Yet the paintings will still be around. That’s certainly true of Modigliani, whose painting are as alive today as they were a hundred years ago.

But on a metaphysical level, what’s wrong with a dead God? It’s not like we have any evidence that if God exists he is anything but a hands off kind of parent. If your mother died giving birth to you, would you curse your life? I think you would more likely thank her for her sacrifice in giving you the gift of life. A lot of times, I think religious people are a bunch of whiners. They expect too much of God. They would be better off doing as the painting people do and managing their own lives. Rare is the person like Lola who really wants to meet God.

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