My relationship with art is minimal and limited. I know of Edvard Munch; he did a couple of famous paintings that I know of, but beyond that, he’s as unknown to me as just about every other famed and acclaimed painter. Diving into a nearly four-hour-long biopic of his life seemed like a great idea, there could be no greater document of his life than this feature film directed by Peter Watkins. I expected such a lengthy accomplishment to detail just about everything and anything to happen to him, from his start as an artist to what he had for breakfast on his twenty-third birthday. You may be disappointed to find that we’ll never know if he had kippers or cereal, but Edvard Munch is a masterful biopic that puts contemporary pieces to shame, detailing as much as it possibly can about the life of this influential painter.
Munch is portrayed primarily by Geir Westby, his only feature work to date, and perhaps the only work he shall ever provide us. He certainly looks like Munch, and his actions and interactions on screen are enjoyable, adding layer upon layer of torment and suffering in a role that thrives on death and disease. From his earliest documented moments, through diaries and accounts from those that socialised with Munch, Watkins begins to flesh out a picture of the man behind the incredible paintings. Delving deep into the influence behind his work, it’s great to see that the biopic doesn’t shy away from detailing just about everything it deems relevant. Munch lingers at the sides of the camera lens, often staring directly into the audience. The few times we see him in a state of anything other than depravity comes from those brief flutters of painting.
Watkins’ camerawork is beautiful, capturing the frustrations of Munch’s life thoroughly and vividly. Through prominent chunks of narration, we learn of Munch and his life with relative ease. His close encounters with death as a child, his aversion to popular artistry and the snobbishness his critics at the time presented him. It’s a film that highlights frustration, the perseverance documented by Munch in his diaries, his own candidness makes the transfer to the screen in a near-seamless fashion. The editing is spectacular, there’s not a moment within that feels like a waste of time or not as interesting as the scene that precedes it. Every aspect and detail accounted for by the film is immaculate and interesting, an engaging piece that toils in respect for the artist.
Edvard Munch feels more and more like a documentary than a biopic as it ploughs through thirty years of an interesting life. An analysis of not just his artwork, but also who Munch was as a person, the eponymous biopic is a fantastic recount of his life. Watkins and the cast meditate on the impact of Munch’s work, and how his conquering of the arts led to contemporary understandings of the human psyche. Fully deserving of its lengthy running time, the film puts itself to good use, documenting a life in a mere four hours, exploring many of the tropes, themes and ideas presented to us by a painter out of sync with the expectations of his critics.