in association with Andreas Schmid







A fantasy based on the life of Gustav Klimt




Written & Directed by RAUL RUIZ





The story begins in the Austrian Pavillion of the World Exhibition in 1900 in Paris, where Klimt receives the gold medal for his work. There he meets the film magician Meliés who introduces him to Lea de Castro. She emerges as his fantastical muse and the personification of his erotic ideal and carnal desires. He also meets the mysterious Secretary, who becomes nemesis to his flailing sanity during the course of the film. Ruiz develops Klimt’s fight with the Austrian Authorities and Viennese high-society, which arose out of Klimt’s "scandalous“ allegories, and which escalate so dramatically that Klimt steals his ill-loved paintings (which had been commissioned by the State) from out of the Secession building and eventually, in order to avoid prison, buys them back. Ruiz uses events, dialogue and quotes from Klimt’s circle of friends and contemporaries to authenticate the action and thus Schiele, Altenberg, Bahr and Wedekind appear sporadically, recreating the true fabric of coffee-house culture in turn of the century Vienna.

The film’s plot centres on Klimt’s passion for Lea de Castro, his struggle for artistic freedom, and his life-long but platonic relationship with Emilie Flöge. His close friendship with Egon Schiele forms the narrative voice of the film. Raúl Ruiz interprets the life of Klimt to give an extraordinary visual and musical rendering of the real events. He focuses on Klimt’s eternal search for perfection, eroticism and love, his tireless hunt for a new form of expression, his rejection of the social and artistic zeitgeist, the turbulence of turn of the century Vienna and the demise of an empire.





It’s not an easy task to put these thoughts to paper. To my surprise though, whilst writing these notes I began to feel like a medium for the spirit of Karl Kraus as, during a midday nap, I found myself asking him for advice. Thus, it’s not me (for I have a rather peaceful temperament) who is to blame for any brazenness in the following text.


This film is not a linear biopic of the life and times of Gustav Klimt. It is more fantasy, or, if you like, a phantasmagoria. Rather more like one of his paintings, in which material and imaginary figures blend and spiral around a central point: the painter Klimt. I intend to draw on the unique stylistic characteristics of Klimt’s artwork, the prevailing beauty, excess of colour, spatial distortion and complex angles in order to bring to life and illuminate one of the richest, most contradictory and eerie epochs in modern history.


The film will be told in the manner of Arthur Schnitzler, not only perhaps the most Viennese, but also one of the most universally acclaimed writers of the period. Credited with the genesis of a circular narrative structure, his writing mixes dream and reality, sanity and madness. Readers at the beginning of the 20th century were shocked and confused by him and some contemporary readers of this script might be so today … but somehow this seems only natural. After all, even the Viennese waltz was shocking then. And this film, in many ways, is a waltz. Endlessly turning, speeding, dizzying and exhilarating. In fact, playing in my head throughout has been  "La Valse” by Ravel, which rises eerily accelerating to a climax, only to end unexpectedly and abruptly.


More generally I want to suggest that nothing is completely safe or immutable. That there is no certainty in what one actually sees – most poignantly expressed by Klimt’s own deteriorating mental health, brought on by syphilis – spaces will change imperceptibly through movements of objects and walls; the source of light will shift, the actor’s movements will be choreographed and the action fragmented. To elaborate on all these technical processes would take too long, but just to add: In my Proust film  "Le temps retrouvé" I used more than sixty stylistic effects, here I think double that number might be achievable.


Now to the story: we first meet the painter Klimt at the time of his death remembering a particular and hidden episode of his life – his passionate love affair with the dancer and worldly-wise Lea de Castro. During a visit to Paris, he first meets an actress who claims to be the false Lea but promises to take him to the genuine Lea whom he previously saw in a film by Meliès. From this first encounter numerous episodes revolve around this central theme, the liaison with this woman, who may actually be two or three different women. An affair characterized by failed rendezvous’ and burning desire. All this against a backdrop, which occasionally finds itself in the centre of attention, the dying Habsburg Empire and the Fin de Siècle bustle Vienna, with its collection of sparkling minds, intrigue and sexual tension.

The film is set in a time of enormous upheaval, a time marked by the birth of artistic and personal individuality. In order for Klimt to properly pioneer this new wave, however, he must reject all social and domestic constraints. He does this through romantic adventure and sometimes through the opposite: the normality of family life. Tragically, however, the adventures become routine and family life begets madness.


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are never far off: after the accession of Serbia, Vienna is threatened by war, a hunger crisis is developing and syphilis and tuberculosis plague Europe.  And what of the Fourth Rider, Death? No, death is implicit in the other three; the

fourth is passion and joy. It circles the figures of the film. It is a waltz: You dance and dance and dance, round and round and round.


I expect to hear criticisms of this script akin to those levelled at Klimt’s art. That he preferred the detail to the whole, the ornament to total expression. But this tendency is a defining characteristic of the era the film represents – a time in which mankind lost itself in the detail (not to forget that the devil is in the detail). The film will be full of the beauty, joy and decadence of the age but also will be tempered by a sense of death and foreboding. I hope this film will reflect the end of an era.


 The film was shot in English and on 35mm film Cinemascope.




The book , “KLIMT, A Photographischer Essay by Von Konrad Rufus Muller“ was published to accompany the film. It incorporates an essay by the photographer Konrad Rufus Muller and a collection of his photographs.  The images were shot during the filming of Klimt in Vienna and in the studio at Warner Brothers in Bottrop-Kirchellen.  The book also comprises the director’s notes, a statement about the production, a synopsis, and information on the make-up, set and costume designs.