Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is about Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) left Paris in 1891 in the hopes of coming back a rich man. But soon after he gets there he becomes very sick. The doctor (Malik Zidi) orders him to stop smoking and change his diet. He doesn’t, but instead he falls for a local girl, and with her parents consent, they move together in a small hut. And with her love he is now cured. The girl is known today as Tehura, Tehamana or Teha’amana. In the film she is played by Tuheï Adams. Tehura will become one of Gauguin’s most important Polynesian model. (his painting D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? is thought to be his most beautiful Polynesian work) But Gauguin is unable to sell his paintings and they get so poor that they can’t feed themselves. So he goes to seek work. By that time Tehura is in love with Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), a boy closer to her age. Gauguin is jealous and he locks her in the house while he’s gone to work. I found the film to be too slow and, beside the splendid French Polynesian landscape, it did not have anything interesting to say. In doing my research I learned that Tehura, who really existed, but in the film is probably a composite of all of Gauguin’s Polynesian “wife”, was only 13 years old, while Gauguin was 43, and all his companions were about the same age. While it is probably consistent with the mores of Tahiti at the time, today that information is not good material for a biopic. The filmmakers knew it and there is no mention of Tehura’s age. Neither did they tell us that Gauguin suffered from syphilis, probably a deadly disease at the time. In the film the disease is diabetes. I found the filmmaker to be dishonest. Was Gauguin a great artist? Yes. Should his paintings be seen by more people? Yes. But there is no reason to mask the truth. We should see a person for what they are and were, warts and all. Plus the film is a bore.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 13 – 22
Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)
In French and some Polynesian languages with English subtitles