‘My name is Marc, my emotional life is sensitive and my wallet is empty, but they say I have talent.’
This film follows Marc Chagall‘s fascinating journey starting out in Vitepsk, Belarus to being known as the ‘Grand Old Man’ of French painting.
The young artist, Saul Greenberg, does not get to meet Chagall, who was 97 and in the last year of his life, but it is through his eyes that the story of Chagall unfolds. Greenberg is living and working in the ‘La Ruche’ artist’s residence in Paris, just as Chagall did before World War I. This is where he starts his film essay about the life of his brilliant predecessor.
Chagall was born to Jewish parents in 1887, painting took him out of the poverty-stricken provincial limitations of his youth and brought him the Parisian art world in 1907. However, his roots remained a huge influence on his work throughout his life and are persistent themes that he revisited time and again.
Paris in 1913 was an era of great artistic experimentation, what Chagall called ‘a revolution of the eye’, with both the Cubist and Impressionist schools at the height of their powers. Chagall’s work at this time clearly shows the influence of his new surroundings, although the influence of Cubism was hard to reconcile alongside older Russian decorations and motifs.
In 1915 Chagall married Bella, his childhood sweetheart, and she becomes another fundamentally important influence, both as a subject and a critic. Her face can be found in many of his works right through to the end of his life and it was in his love for her that Chagall found the inspiration for his flying figures.
Wider historical events on Chagall’s life, particularly the Second World War and the Holocaust, also served to influence his work, including a 1950 poem that movingly expresses his sorrow and guilt at having escaped from France when others couldn’t.
Chagall’s own words are narrated by an actor and extras include a sumptuous picture gallery and trailers.
Art Lives, from Arthaus, is a series of compelling documentaries about artists and art movements released for the first time on DVD in the English language.