by Tuna

This film is purportedly a biopic of the noted Austrian art nouveau artist Gustav Klimt

Klimt is painted as a atheistic womanizer with several illegitimate children and an obsession with Jewesses. He is disdainful of officials and critics, and claims not to care what people think about him, but really wants his art to be accepted.

As the film opens, Klimt is delirious, dying of advanced syphilis. (Note that the real Klimt died of a stroke.) An old friend visits, and we see highlights from Klimt's life in flashback, usually through mirrors and reflections. If there is a central conflict, it is Klimt's obsession with a woman, but it is never clear precisely whether that woman is a single woman. He is in Paris, receiving a gold medal for his work, and a short film is presented depicting him and a woman. He falls instantly in love with either Lea de Castro or somebody pretending to be Lea de Castro. Since Klimt's past is viewed through his present delirium, this is not an easy distinction to make!

He is later summoned to an apartment where one Lea, pretending to be another Lea, seduces him, while another Lea and her benefactor watch through a two way mirror. Lea commissions him to make two portraits, which he never finishes. Another major character is a public official, who is actually Klimt's imagination and alter ego, not to mention at least one and possibly more Klimt doubles.

Director Raoul Ruiz says that he chose to show the artist as a "phantasmagoria" and was attempting to do with film what Klimt did with canvas. Read his thoughts here. You have to give the director points for imaginative experimentation but, unfortunately, his reliance on imagination essentially means this biopic bears little resemblance to the real Klimt (Lea de Castro is a fictional character, for example), and is virtually incoherent to boot. The narrative problem is made all the greater by a studio-ordered cut from 127 minutes to 97 minutes, stranding some scenes without the necessary explanatory material that was (presumably) cut. The film, at least in its present form, just doesn't work, and I wonder if the longer director's cut would be more accessible.

The film is not without plusses. First, John Malkovich plays the title role. Second, the set decoration is wonderful, as is the cinematography. Finally, there are lots of naked and attractive women. This film will be of interest to the art film crowd and nudity buffs, and hence does have a small audience. Others should probably avoid it.

by Uncle Scoopy (Johnny Web)

Klimt is pretty much of a self-reviewing movie. It was written by a native Spanish speaker in French, then translated into German for the crew in the Austrian and German filming locations, then translated into English for the actors to perform. The director produced a 127-minute cut which the producer deemed totally unmarketable and cut to 93 minutes.

And that's not the worst of it. The capper on the situation is that it was written to be surrealistic in the first place! Although it is supposed to be about the Jugendstil artist Gustav Klimt, the writer/director conceived it not as a biopic, but as a "phantasmagoria" - "a constantly changing medley of real or imagined images, as in a dream," and it is told through the stream of consciousness of a man dying in the last stages of syphilis.

Knowing all that, how much of a review do you need?

Even if you could have read the original version, it would have made little to no sense, not even if the director had written it in his native language. Since it began its life incoherent by design, you can imagine what it's like now, many generations removed from its original conception.

Essentially the film ignores the real Gustav Klimt, other than the fact that he lived in Vienna during the fin de siecle and was recognized for having painted some works which were as controversial as they were important. The real Klimt never died of syphilis, as pictured here, and he never had a lover named Lea de Castro, who is pictured here as a composite of many of Klimt's paramours. As I interpret it, "Lea" was Klimt's Dulcinea, his romantic ideal, and he thought every one of his true loves was the real Lea - until the next one came along. Confusingly, but perhaps appropriately, all of the Leas are played by the same actress (Saffron Burrows). Even more confusingly, the film is not consistent in its presentation of multiple identities. There are also alternate Klimts, but they are all played by different actors! Although other characters ask Klimt why he is talking to himself, is it not completely clear to the audience whether that is the case. If all that isn't confusing enough for you, there are some elements of the film which just seem like outright flubs. Although English represents the German actually spoken by the actors' real-life counterparts, a few exchanges of dialogue are in German, and the appearance of these exchanges (with no subtitles) appears to be completely random! If English represents German, what does German represent?

You could probably create many other equally defensible explanations of the multiple identities and shifting time frames, since the film is itself a work of non-representational art and thus subject to many possible interpretations. Remember again that the story we watch exists in the jumbled logic of a man in the feverish recollections of his death throes. 

If the film succeeds at all, it is in providing pictorializations of the opulence and decadence in that era just before the Great War, as well as of the work of Klimt himself, awash in gold paint, sexual imagery, symbolism, and swirling floral patterns. If you want to see a film which IS abstract art, it might have some appeal for you. If you want to see a film ABOUT the art or artists of that time, take a pass, because you'll learn nothing here.

Klimt (2006)

The longer version (127 minutes, director's cut) is not available on home media. Information about the shorter version (97 minutes real time, 93 with PAL speed-up) can be obtained by clicking on the image above.

Region 2 PAL

Anamorphic widescreen.

Scoop's notes:

The DVD package isn't a complete waste of time. The special features include some interesting insights into the process of make-up and lensing, including some long shots of the cinematographer at work, as photographed by another cinematographer, documentary style. This is particularly interesting since it explains one of Saffron Burrows's nude scenes, and even shows her being filmed! (She was topless, but was wearing underpants, although the character was supposed to be naked. There was full frontal and rear nudity for "false Lea," but it was done by the body double until "real Lea" (or maybe it was "other false Lea") made her appearance, at which time Saffron did finally lose the underpants, albeit with her back to the camera.


Comments and reviews are almost universally negative, whether about the shorter producer's version, which is on the DVD, or the longer director's cut, which was seen and reviewed at some film festivals.

The only positive major review came from The Hollywood Reporter.

2 BBC (of 5 stars)
?? Metacritic.com (of 100)


5.3 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. One theater, ten days, $17,000


Saffron Burrows shows buns and breasts.

Verena Mundhenke, Ariella Hirshfield, and Georgia Reeve show everything, as do several unknowns.

Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system ...

Tuna says this film is a


"Target audience: arthouse buffs and nudity aficionados."

Scoop says


"The film might have been a C- if so many things had not gone wrong. As it is, it's impossible to recommend to anyone because it's an incoherent mess, albeit one with some pretty images and some lovely naked women."