A French existentialist and one of the most influential musicians of all time aren’t the typical reviewers you’d expect to see atop a film poster.
But David Bowie and Jean-Paul Sartre’s names adorn the publicity of this new art documentary about one of Venice’s most influential, unsung artists of the renaissance.
So, with the marketing proselytising the brilliance of this unorthodox genius and with the names of two other fringe(ish) figures attached to it, is the film more rebel rebel or nausea…ting? That may be the worst and most pretentious play on words I’ve ever typed…also not sure if that makes any sense. Whatever, let’s run with it.
Anyway, Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice takes us on a whistle-stop tour through the canals and vistas of Venice, exploring how the people, places, and zeitgeist of the island city mid-renaissance influenced Jacopo Comin, affectionately known as Tintoretto or ‘little dyer’, after his father’s occupation.
It guides us through his most monumental work, his feud with Titian and Veronese (among others) and how his rebellious cunning turned him into a respected and reviled figure in equal measure.
I won’t describe the elements of his life in detail. If I told you that Bruce Willis was dead for the whole of The Sixth Sense there’d be hardly any point watching it, would there? There’s nothing to spoil per se, but spooling off reams of information about Tintoretto’s life seems pointless.
The film is a snapshot of Tintoretto’s life and works, watch it and you’ll see them. There’s your plot.
So let’s talk about the filmmaking.
Is it a film? I suppose. There is a brief moment c.15 minutes in though where the screen fades to black after a climactic episode and it becomes apparent that it’s there for an ad break. It’s packaged, looks and feels like a TV documentary.
That’s fine; TV documentaries can be great and I love Sky Arts as much as the guy – as long as the next guy isn’t Melvin Bragg – but it goes some way to explaining why it falls a bit flat.
For an artist dubbed “the first movie director” by Sartre, a claim reiterated by director Peter Greenaway in his cameo half-way through, it lacks distinct flair or cinematic pull in how it’s made.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter Greenaway enough to wander around an obscure palace in Turin that’s decked out with his weirdness – look it up – but the section where he guides us around Tintoretto’s Marriage at Cana isn’t enough to salvage it and is one of the only notable moments in the whole film.
For someone so revered, who had such vivacious experiences, there are hardly any human moments or flashes of wonderment. I understand that may sound a bit naff, but unless they are present there’s no opportunity to build a relationship with the artist; no opportunity to care.
And I didn’t, really. One story explains Tintoretto’s relationship with his daughter, how he encouraged her to defy the norms of the time to paint, how he depicts her in his painting of the Presentation of the Virgin. It’s genuinely touching. And there’s a humorous aside about competing to decorate the Scuola di San Rocco, where he hijacked the competition through nefarious means.
Other than that, there’s nothing to feel invested in, not in this portrayal of his life. The documentary feels like a ninety-minute plateau.
I like a lot of Tintoretto’s art and his works are legitimately impressive in their scale and ambition, but the documentary seems like a skim-read; it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
The presentation of his works isn’t great either. The epic – and I use that term very loosely – soundtrack, when a masterwork is unveiled, is jarring and repetitive beyond belief.
All-in-all though, Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice isn’t a bad documentary, nor is it anything spectacular. It’s middling.
I’m glad I know a bit more about an artist I vaguely knew about anyway, but that’s it; I only know a bit more.
I wanted to be able to tell people about this incredible revolutionary who was an innovator, a rebel going against the grain in a timeless tale that’s still pertinent today. And I still might be able to do that…but it may be after reading a biography on him rather than this documentary.
Dir: Giuseppe Domingo Romano
Scr: Melania Gaia Mazzucco, Marco Panichella
Featuring: Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Greenaway, Melania Gaia Mazzucco, Stefano Accorsi
Prd: Maurizio Vassallo, Maurizio Vassallo, Roberto Pisoni, Barbara Frigerio, Jean Elia
DOP: Emanuele Cerri
Music: Gransta Msv Marco Villa
Run Time: 96 mins
Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice is available in cinemas now.