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Gauguin - Voyage to Tahiti 2017

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti | Gauguin: Voyage de Tahiti

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti-Gauguin: Voyage de Tahiti

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About Gauguin 💬

French artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was an innovator of modern art, known for experimenting with bold color and distorted proportions, along with his contemporaries Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

By 1891, painter Paul Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) was already well-known in artistic circles, but had grown tired of the civilized world and its political and moral conventions.

Leaving his wife Mette (Pernille Bergendorff) and children behind, he ventures alone to Tahiti, consumed with a yearning for new inspiration.

Pushing deep into the Tahitian jungle, Gauguin meets Tehura (Tuheï Adams), his muse, who will consume his mind and inspire his most iconic works of art.


Q: Where did your desire to make this film come from?

Edouard Deluc: It comes from my encounter with Noa Noa, the travel diary Gauguin wrote after his first trip to Tahiti in 1893. It's an adventure of incredible poetry, about the mysteries of creation, the love for distant lands, the absolute dedication to art, the need to create an oeuvre. But it's also a story about love and freedom. I discovered the book during my studies at the Beaux-Arts, and it had stayed in my library ever since, like the ghost of a possible film. In 2012, after summer reading W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence (1919), another book with a rather crazy romantic strength, I dove once again into Noa Noa, that was lying on my desk. And something crystalized in me.

Q: Why?

Edouard Deluc: Gauguin is an extraordinary character in pursuit of a hedonistic dream, who wants to get rid of all conventions, to reconnect with ''wild'' nature, which had already led him to Brittany, Panama, and Martinique, and to find his muse, his ''Primitive Eve,'' the woman who will distinguish him. In 1891, he makes a gesture and a move that's both sacrificial and powerful. He leaves Paris for Polynesia, where he will paint with fury, but facing general indifference, sixty-six masterpieces in eighteen months that will be a turning point in his work, will influence the fauvists and the cubists, will mark the arrival of modern art. Two sentences of his have constantly guided my work: ''I can't be ridiculous because I'm two things that never are: a child and a savage.'' And: ''I will come back to the forest to live the calm, the ecstasy and art.'' They both represent my entire project.

Q: So Gauguin was a voyager in his soul...

Edouard Deluc: At one year old, he had already spent six months at sea with his parents: his father, a Republican under Napoleon III, dies on a boat while fleeing France. His mother, daughter of the socialist and feminist militant Flora Tristan, takes refuge in Peru, a country that leaves a profound impression on his all-consuming quest for the ''primitive''. There, he lives surrounded by pre-Columbian sculptures and he learns the cut and the sculpture of daggers. The period I chose to address - 1891-1893 - focuses on all the intimate, artistic and political issues of his quest.

Q: How faithful were you to the film's source material, Noa Noa?

Edouard Deluc: I adapted it freely. To put it another way, everything you see in the film is true, but sometimes it's romanticized. In writing Noa Noa, Gauguin already revisited facts, building upon his legend. There are innumerable biographies about Gauguin that also interpret them too. And my position as a director gives me the power to do the same. For instance in Noa Noa, Tehura and Jotépha, the Tahitians he meets, do indeed exist, but they do not create this romantic trio with Gauguin, which underpins one of the dramatic stakes of the screenplay. The character Tehura is also a composite of many of Gauguin's lovers. And he probably never locked her up at his place as he does at the end of the film, driven by jealousy. But again, my artistic license as a filmmaker allows me to imagine it without having to justify myself.

Q: The film opens in Paris, where Gauguin, unable to sell his art and short on money, works on the docks as a porter, a scene that you will later reproduce identically in Polynesia.

Edouard Deluc: For instance, that scene is freely inspired from Noa Noa. Gauguin lives in Paris in absolute destitution, looking for a way of living that allows him to concentrate on painting, to find the silence within which to finally hear the interior voices that will guide his hand. Gauguin successively worked as a poster-hanger, money exchanger, dockworker, and he will do the same in Papeete for six months, before being repatriated as an artist in distress. The European patterns no longer satisfy him. Indeed, he says: ''I'm suffocating. There is no landscape, no face that deserves to be painted here.''

Q: In the goodbye party scene, with his friends and the flamboyantly made-up crowd, what was your aesthetic intent?

Edouard Deluc: The intent was to create a wild ball. This banquet, where Mallarme recites his beautiful speech, is definitely a party, but for Gauguin, it's also a rupture. None of his painter friends with whom he created the tropical atelier (Laval, Bernard, Van Gogh, Meijer de Haan) follow him, despite the desire for traveling that occupies their minds too. Gauguin, therefore, proves his monstrous courage. But his solitude is palpable. On top of that, he leaves his wife Mette and their five children despite his love for them, that is reflected in all their correspondences. Because of his bad morals, Paul Gauguin has been blacklisted by some Americans although they are always eager to hang his work in their museums. Dragged down by the moral quandary, research on his work ceased on the other side of the Atlantic between 1985 and 2005. As if we could judge him by the moral standards of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries.

Q: Your film uses the cinematic codes of a western more than those of a classic biopic. Are you challenging this genre?

Edouard Deluc: There are some great biopics, but, without any snobbery, the idea of ''playing'' the performance did not interest me. I wanted to make an adventure film, a western, like in the scenes of the journey Gauguin makes on horseback in the island's interior, or when he arrives in the village of Tehura at night, to the sound of drums. I am possessed by American cinema and, before making Gauguin, I re-watched the features that enchanted me during adolescence, and made me what I am as a filmmaker: The Big Sky by Howard Hawks, Hell in the Pacific by John Boorman, Jeremiah Johnson by Sydney Pollack. But also Still the Water by the Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, where nature, love, death, and transcendence play critical roles. And The Piano by the New Zealander Jane Campion, for its absolute necessity to create.

Q: The film is both political and peppered with questions of religion...

Edouard Deluc: When reading Noa Noa, I was captivated by the fact that Gauguin's arrival in Tahiti coincides with the death of the last Maori king. Gauguin disembarked at the moment when a 2,000-year-old primitive culture died under the dictates of missionaries, surrendered to the arms of the French Republic. Tehura positions herself in the island's shift such that she's at the point of forgetting her beliefs and traditions: she wants to go to church. When he paints the face and the soul of Maoris, Gauguin documents a civilization that's in the course of deteriorating and disappearing. He paints something that is vanishing.

Q: Financially destitute and rejected by the Tahitians who surrounded him, Gauguin gives the impression that he is constantly losing...

Edouard Deluc: Even if - with his evocative power, his bold colors, the symbolic value of his lines - the modernity of his work remains, the film recounts indeed a defeat. With the meeting of Tehura, the Eve of his long yearnings, his creation comes alive. But it disappears as their love fades. Gauguin also wants to become a barbarian, a savage. But nature refuses his wish. Through faces and landscapes, he basically paints an imaginary world. Finally, the capitalist world bursts onto these small pebbles in the Pacific and infects the Tahitian culture. Gauguin is the first of it. To survive, he starts making sculptures of Maori idols and sells them in the port. But he also corrupts Jotépha, who begins to imitate him and produces these objects in bulk, hoarding the profits.

Q: ''Everything that I’d learned bothered me,'' Gauguin explains...

Edouard Deluc: ''The only virtue is what we have in us,'' he says to Jotépha to distract him from his imitations. Jotépha expressed his bitterness toward the white man, executioner of his civilization, who turned Maori idols - mystical statuettes - into decorative objects, and brought a gun to the island to try to fish with.

Q: Many night scenes give the film an aspect both intimate and surreal. What importance do you accord to ghosts in this story?

Edouard Deluc: They haunt all of Gauguin’s work. Each of his Tahitian pieces carries their share of ghosts and idols. Thanks to them, he attempts to reanimate a culture in decline. To resuscitate a Maori culture impregnated with animism that, since the missionaries' arrival, doesn't have the right to exist. Early on, I wanted to work around the tikka, these ghostly figures, somewhat in the style of Naomi Kawase in Still the Water, involving shamanism. Trying to celebrate the cinema like the art of making ghosts speak. At night in Tahiti, the air is charged with them.

Q: Why did you choose Vincent Cassel to play Gauguin?

Edouard Deluc: Which body, which face, which sensitivity did I want to film? In the only interview Gauguin granted, for Figaro in 1890, he was described as a robust man with bright eyes, who spoke frankly. Vincent, an iconoclast, curious about others and also obsessive, with a taste for the far-flung, was an obvious choice. He read the script synopsis very early on, and indicated he was interested in the project. Like Gauguin, he's beyond conventions, revealing himself fully, even if it's displeasing. We worked together. I gave him Noa Noa, the correspondences between Gauguin and his wife, and Octave Mirbeau's text. He reviewed them, and went with me to the Musée d'Orsay to see his paintings and sculptures. He also had to slim down: Gauguin subsisted on breadfruit roots, we couldn't skimp on that. Finally, he took courses in painting and sculpture, and asked for false teeth to recreate Gauguin's decrepitude.

Q: And Tuheï Adams, 17 years old, who played Tehura?

Edouard Deluc: It was a gift from heaven - we found her on the second day of casting. From the first tests, she exuded a mix of grace and mad intensity. There was also in her something that emanated from Gauguin's paintings and expressed Tahitian history: the fire, the boredom, and insolence, the unchangeable aspect of passing time, a way of being in the present, slow gestures, a melancholy. I hope the film reproduces some of the goodness, calm and dignity of the Tahitians. We can remain silent for hours next to them without trying to fill in the gaps.

Gauguin Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Edouard Deluc

Writing Credits

Edouard Deluc, Etienne Comar, Sarah Kaminsky and Thomas Lilti (Screenplay)

Raphaëlle Desplechin (Collaboration)

Paul Gauguin (Book)


Vincent Cassel

Tuheï Adams

Pua-Taï Hikutini

Malik Zidi

Pernille Bergendorff

Antoine Battini

Babette Kjaer

Mathis Kjaer

Marc Barbé

Samuel Jouy

Music by

Warren Ellis

Cinematography by

Pierre Cottereau

Genres: Biography, Drama, Romance

Country: France

Gauguin Official Trailer

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