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Movie review: Lush visuals and deep philosophy in ‘The Painting’

I first came to know of master animator Jean Francois-Laguionie's 2011 masterpiece “The Painting” (Le Tableau) through one of its posters, the one of a girl—who will turn out to be Lola, the main protagonist—in mid-leap between a square of bright, glowing light and utter darkness. After that, I just had to see what it was about.

There is an unfinished landscape painting whose characters have divided themselves into three classes: the finished, the unfinished, and the rough sketches. Those who were fully-painted are convinced of two things: 1) that the Painter is not coming back, and 2) the unfinished and the rough sketches don't belong in their lovely castle full of music and light. 

With this as the background, unfinished Lola, the impeccably painted Ramo—who is also the lover of Lola's best friend Claire—and a rough sketch named Plume all accidentally end up journeying out of their painting and into many others, in search of the Painter whom they believe will fix all their problems (i.e. class issues). But, as with any great endeavor, that is easier said than done.

Truth be told, I did not immediately like “The Painting” after watching it the first time.

Laguionie definitely paid homage to some famous painters in this one: Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, alternating between bright colors, hard lines, squiggles, and what have you. The result is exhilarating, and I find I cannot fault it whatsoever in the animation department.

But I hadn't seen very many French animated films at that point; I did not know that the very best and worst of them may deal with subjects that alternate between dark, heavy, and profound. Having marathoned several fine examples in one week, however, I found that I could not stop thinking about “The Painting,” could not stop chewing on what it all meant.

Others may have read something else in their interpretation of the film, but I find that when it comes to “The Painting,” I cannot stop thinking about religious themes, specifically the existence of God. 

I think the film pushes for the existence of a God, but not God as portrayed in the Old Testament—vengeful, exacting, the Absolute Law. Without giving away too much of the ending, “The Painting” seems to see God as simply a Creator, a being who can let go of his creations and allow them to make their own way in the wide world, to be in love with both the world and wonder. That's something I can live with.

That said, I can't say I recommend this gem of a film to everyone. If you like clean, simple fun or even something that tugs at your heartstrings, this is not the film you're looking for. But if you welcome well-drawn, fully explored mental exercises, sit back and relax.

All in all, “The Painting” is 78 minutes of lush visuals, solid meta-narrative, and heady, heady themes and philosophies. I am of the opinion that one need not have a background in philosophy to appreciate this animated film's profundity, but I suppose being familiar with the frameworks of the philosophy of religion does help. —KG, GMA News

"The Painting" is one of 10 films currently being screened at the Cinema in the Open-Air Animation Film Cycle at Rizal Park, courtesy of the Ambafrance Manille, for the entire month of March.