Positing itself as a live documentary filmed between 1884-1894, director Peter Watkins' experimental biography of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch
(played by Geir Westby) is an angst-ridden glimpse into the traumatic political and social conditions that birthed Munch's invention of Expressionism. Tracing Munch's rise to infamy, the film begins in Victorian-era Christiania (Oslo), where Munch spent his formative years with a family plagued by disease. It then follows Munch to Berlin, where after studying Symbolism and befriending August Strindberg, Munch finds the impetus to create honest work that mimics his life rife with disconnect and rejection, despite scathing reviews by conservative art critics for his "nervous dissolving treatment of color." Plot-heavy scenes set in his studio and elsewhere are interrupted, as if by Munch's own obsessive memories, by shots of his lost true love, "Mrs. Heiberg" (Gro Fraas), accentuating the loneliness and longing Munch feels for this unattainable married woman. As the film's somber color palette alternates between black and blue, Munch's preferred "colors of death," Munch's interior thoughts are conveyed through Watkins' experimentation with sound and film. The sound made by Munch's brush scratching canvas is, at times, unbearably magnified, for example, and visual montages featuring close-ups of the artist's facial expressions elucidate Munch's disturbed emotional states and fragile nerves. The film's expressive qualities emulate the artist's stylistic approach to his art-making, making Edvard Munch
an especially convincing artist's biopic. -Trinie Dalton
Famously described by Ingmar Bergman as a "work of genius", Peter Watkins' multi-faceted masterpiece is more than just a bio-pic of the iconic Norwegian Expressionist painter. Focusing initially on Munch's formative years in late 19th Century Kristiania (now Oslo), Watkins uses his trademark style to create a vivid picture of the emotional, political and social upheavals that would have such an effect on his art.
The young artist (Geir Westby) has an affair with "Mrs Heiberg" (Gro Fraas), a devastating experience that will haunt him for the rest of his life, and his work is viciously attacked by the critics and public alike. He is forced to leave his home country for Berlin, where, along with the notorious Swedish playwright August Strindberg, he becomes part of the cultural storm that is to sweep Europe.