Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti, directed by Edouard Deluc, follows the painter Paul Gauguin on his journey to Tahiti, into a collision with another culture and with himself. The French actor Vin-cent Cassel, known mostly for his action roles, plays the bearded artist who paints, suffers, drinks and glares.

Gauguin as seen on the big screen has usually been the relatively sane companion to an un-hinged Vincent van Gogh. Here he is centerstage—or rather center-hut—and rarely far from the adolescent girl who becomes his wife and model.

With sun, sex and art, Gauguin would seem to have the right ingredients for drama, or at least for visual wonderment. But Tahiti can be dreary if you are Paul Gauguin. Despite a wrenching performance from Cassel, whose face is a landscape unto itself, the slow somber film is heavy on anguish, but does not give us much paradise or much painting.

The story is well known, inspired by Noa Noa, Gauguin’s account of his time in Tahiti written a few years later. In 1891, a bored and broke Gauguin leaves his wife and five children for French Polynesia. He meets and paints a young girl and other indigenous subjects. He struggles, and returns to France in 1893. Read more