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Art of Passion

STUDIO: Liberation Entertainment
MSRP: $19.95
RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes
Feature Commentary w/ director
Essay by composer
Photo gallery
Deleted scenes
Location maps
DVD-ROM content

The Pitch

“It’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Naked!”

The Humans

Pablo Bryant, Aleksandra Kaniak, Joe Estevez (J-j-joe!)

The Nutshell

There once was a painter named Steve
Whose talent you wouldn’t believe.
He practiced at school,
And learned all the rules.
Might laurels he ever achieve?

"It tickles when he steals my soul."

The Lowdown

If you hear a pitch or tagline for a movie that involves the words “young artist,” you can pretty much bet you’re in for a cavalcade of idealism, a celebration of abstracts like truth and beauty, minus Keats’ balancing ambiguity. Young artists are the stupid ones, the ones who manage beauty through experimentation, instead of deliberate effort. Their idealism is an inward momentum, but it moves at odds with the other inertias in their lives: love, success, contentment, rebellion.

Art of Passion takes this basic theory of artistic development and wraps characters around the concepts. You have Steve, the artist, pushing himself to create something beautiful. Then there are the women in his life: the worldly painter who urges him to abandon the traditional impressionism that has long been his forte; the gallery owner who wants him to give her a show full of just such impressionist (read: boring) pieces; the lusty, naked model who wants Steve to abandon himself to his primal urges; and the ego-boosting tart who loves Steve and his artsy attitude just the way he is.

"Fuck, yeah you can call me 'Joe'!"

That the whole cast can be reduced to vectors speaks volumes about how engaging the script is. Sure, there’s some sexual tension, but its all put into play as a way to show externally how Steve’s mind wanders from target to target like a sharpshooter with double vision. Art of Passion isn’t really a character drama in the traditional sense, in which characters interact; this is all about Steve; everyone exists to help Steve define himself as an artist, which is none too compelling a plot.

What’s worse is that the sexual politics get occluded by a competition much more esoteric and less momentous: the conflict between traditional painting and the abstract. As far as I know, no one in film has made a successful character-driven essay on the relative merits of impressionism vs., say, cubism. Pollock was about Pollock; Art of Passion wrangles some philosophy of painting as the center of its drama, instead of something to do explicitly with its protagonist. The only good example of differing painting techniques being exploited for drama is Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red.

"My name is Domino Notharvey."

Art of Passion is earnest with its material, but that material is so far removed from the audience’s experience that the intended drama fails to inspire. It’s possible to sympathize with Steve, but where the film should make you feel as though you’ve just had a few beers with the fellow, swapping life stories, you just feel as if you passed the guy on the street and gave him a polite nod.

The Package

The commentary by director Arthur Bjorn Egeli goes a good way toward explaining the genesis of the film, in biographical details culled from Egeli’s own life. The man is an earnest as his creation. Here’s a thing, though: by the end of the commentary track, I felt as if I knew Egeli better than I knew Steve.

There are quite a few additional bonuses packed onto the disc, including interviews, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, quick bios, and trailers. Then there’s two things you don’t often see: maps of the locations used in filming, and an essay on art (in some permutation of the word) by the film’s composer, Michael Errington. These last two are welcome additions to the usual suspects.

5.5 out of 10