The film begins with a gory scene in which a painter named
Stephenson kills his model (Michelle Esclapez) and paints with her
blood. In the morning he kills himself. The police in Marseilles
conclude that this is the end of the so-called "Marseilles Monster," a
noted serial killer, because the artist's studio includes paintings of
all the previous victims. The only apparent mysteries seem to be why
the artist chose this time to end his murder spree, and why he left
the last painting unfinished.
But there is more. Some months pass and the French police need the
services of an art expert because they unearth a fully finished copy
of the mysteriously unfinished painting, and their lab work tells them
that the painting has been created since Stephenson died. The
situation is made more perplexing because nobody has ever seen
the unfinished copy of the painting except the police. The art expert
confirms that the new painting seems to be a Stephenson.
The art expert and a French cop soon end up in Thailand, in pursuit
of a master art forger named Lec, who seems to have been the creator
of the Stephenson painting created after Stephenson's death. Lec also
seems to be in possession of several other Stephenson paintings - or
are they Lec paintings? The cop starts to believe that Lec, not
Stephenson, may have been the real killer in Marseilles, or at least
an accomplice, but his theory is shot when he obtains Lec's
fingerprints and tracks down his real identity, only to discover that
he was in prison during several of the Marseilles murders. At any
rate, Lec himself is soon killed, so there is nothing more to pursue
The story returns to England and grows increasingly more complex
when more Stephenson-style paintings turn up and more murders occur.
Sound confusing? It is. The key to the story is one painting -
Stephenson's self-portrait. If you stay fixed on that painting, the
mystery will be clear. Well, maybe not clear, but at least
semi-comprehensible. The face in the painting keeps changing. First it
is Stephenson's face, then Lec's, then ... well, just keep watching.
The story is further complicated by a sub-plot which winds back
into the main plot. The sadistic Lec had a girlfriend named Blanche (the film's
co-producer and editor, Carole Derrien) who was devastated by his
loss. She takes on a new lover, a woman (Morrigan Hel), who turns her
on but just doesn't have the cruel streak necessary to satisfy her
masochistic urges. Blanche prefers women,
but wants to find one as cruel as Lec. When she figures out that the
man she loved was just some kind of spirit that travels from body to
body, as reflected in the mutable self-portrait, she resolves to steal
the supernatural painting and give it to her current lover. She
assumes that that the owner of the painting will soon be possessed by
the traveling spirit, and she will therefore get to keep her current
female lover (in body) and also be reunited with her murderous
ex-lover (in spirit).
At least that's my best guess as to what is going on in the film.
Frankly, the narrative is garbled and slow to begin with, often
focusing too much screen time on irrelevancies, and much of the
storyline is revealed through dream sequences and drug-induced hazes,
so the story is virtually incomprehensible.
The film's liabilities don't end there. There are many
technical problems. The film was shot on mini-DV and the lighting is
far too dark, so that some scenes are virtually in stygian blackness.
The actors are not only stiff and amateurish, but some of them speak
with such heavy accents that comprehension is a real problem. The
audience is left trying to piece together an excessively complicated
plot from pictures that can't be seen and words that can't be
understood, making the film's positive elements virtually impossible
Yes, there are positives. The filmmakers managed to do a lot with
$200,000. There are location shots in France, England, and Thailand,
and there are some sumptuous settings. (The co-producers must have
friends with very nice houses and cars.) The film also has a certain
surreal appeal that transcends its weaknesses. If you are into the
whole Gorotica thing, you may find Nature Morte interesting. With the
aid of a bizarre original score, the director manages to do a good job
in cultivating a dark, ugly, erotically-charged atmosphere, and in
loading up the film with guilty genre pleasures like stylized gore and lesbian
sex. There are hints of Jean Rollin and Jesus Franco in the style and
mood of the film, so if you like those directors you may find some
individual scenes to contain the same offbeat appeal found in the European Horrotica films of the
1970s and beyond.