Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Philosophy and Plot Summary: The Painting

As a sort of follow-up to one of my recent posts about a film of the same genre, I decided to take a look at the French film The Painting (AKA Le tableau). Originally released in 2011, it was shown at a handful of U.S. film festivals throughout 2012 and made available on Netflix in late 2013. I only just got around to seeing it for the first time a few days ago (whoops) and got a lot more than expected. Iceberg-size spoilers ahoy!

Not rated.
I suggest PG as one poor fella is beaten to death by a gang of privileged prats.

It was not so much the various artistic techniques used by the creators that struck me—though they were, at the very least, interesting to behold. Instead, it was the profound nature of the story. What at first I took to be a simple retelling of Romeo and Juliet turned out to have a deeper commentary on social class and its inherent discrimination, deformity as uniqueness/identity, the need to determine the existence of a divine creator, as well as reconciling the beautiful with the terrible; the created with the destroyed.

There are three rungs to the social ladder in The Painting. Residing at the bottom are Sketchies—the Painter's doodles or—as some argue—his mistakes. Halfies are a little more filled out in form, possessing three dimensions and stains of colour, but still incomplete. The blessed 'chosen' are the Alldunns—those requiring no further work. They reside in the Castle above the Gardens (where the Halfies are sequestered) at the edges of the Forbidden Forest (where the Sketchies a forced to hide). Holding the seat of authority is one known as The Great Chandelier; this is a man who assumes knowledge of the Painter's 'plan' and is therefore dangerously influential.

Claire, a Halfie, and Ramo, her beloved Alldunn, meet in secret to avoid the persecution of their respective tribes. Soon the two are forced to separate and Lola, one of Claire's Halfie friends, joins Ramo and a Sketchie named Quill on a quest to find the Painter. Their mutual goal: to get their creator to finish the work he abandoned.

Ramo, Lola, and Quill making their way through the Forbidden Forest.
Note the physical divisions placed between each character in the scene.

It is through the journey of these unlikely compatriots that the audience becomes increasingly aware of how deeply their cultural stratification is rooted. While certainly more open to equality than others, Ramo and Lola remain in a more preferred position than Quill. Ramo is a privileged Alldunn whose respect for Halfies stems mainly from his blind love for Claire. Though he abhors injustice and the gang mentality exhibited by his fellow Alldunns, his dislike for Sketchies is made apparent on several occasions. Unlike Ramo, Lola is sympathetic to Quill's bumbling nature, but it could be said that she herself is a unique case in that she does not wish to be 'completed'. The girl feels that there is more to life than residing in the Castle and believes that something special is waiting for her beyond the confines of the world in which she lives. She is content with herself as an individual, embracing her aesthetic flaws by instead viewing them as unique attributes. While Lola does not understand Claire's feelings for Ramo, she is at least willing to help him along the way and, eventually, they gain a certain level of esteem for one another.

The studio.
Lola: "Maybe [the Painter] is nearby. You know, listening to us."
Quill, sarcastically: "Sure, that sounds likely!"

Back at the Castle, treatment of the lower classes gets steadily worse. The Great Chandelier is power-hungry and grows suspicious of Ramo's actions, so he takes Claire hostage and orders that the Sketchies be rounded up to work as slave labor. Since the Sketchies are barely formed creations, though, they are somewhat inept at carrying out basic tasks; The Great Chandelier is not pleased. He commands that the Halfies be abducted and their homes set on fire. One Alldunn youth jeers, "Sketchies, Halfies, what's the difference?"

Little do they know that the group of outcasts has made its way out of the Forbidden Forest—a place rumored to be deadly but what actually turns out to be both peaceful and beautiful. A general fear of the unknown resonates throughout this film, being the thing that keeps Halfies and Sketchies alike 'in their place' and prevents them from leaving their lot to pursue a better life away from the judgemental Alldunns.

Lola and the gang end up outside of their original painting in a derelict art studio. They discover that there are others like them who have been left to fend for themselves. Searching for answers and receiving none (not to mention having to face the horrifying fact that the Painter destroyed a vast amount of his own work without considering the creations inside), the trio are left to their own devices.

Ramo decides to come up with a solution of his own.

Taking various tubes of paint found around the studio, the group makes its way back to the Castle. Ramo gets captured and is set to face trial with Claire. Quill comes across the escaped Halfies who go on a bit of a creative rampage with the newfound colours, completing themselves as they see fit. They help the lovebirds escape and show the Alldunns who's boss...sort of.

The ending is actually a little disappointing. The Alldunns admire the freshly finished Halfies, wanting to try out the new colours themselves. Everyone joins in splattering The Great Chandelier with paint, effectively knocking him down a few pegs. Oddly, though, the Halfies and the Sketchies take no action against the Alldunns for all of their past injustices. They brutally murdered one of Quill's friends and forced others to be subservient to them by ruling through the use of violence and fear tactics, but nooooo, now that everyone can be an Alldunn things are just hunky-dory. Perhaps that is why Lola leaves without partaking in the painting party. She goes back to the studio and discovers a crack in the brick wall that leads outside into a photo-realistic world. The Painter sits before a canvas, musing over the ocean. They share a small exchange before Lola goes off to see more of the world. La fin brusque.

Lola, to the Painter: "Now I want to know who painted you!"

I realized partway through writing this post that I was committing the cardinal sin of plot summarization. Shame on me. Out of college for only one month and I am already losing my touch. :P

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