Art is long, love hurts, and poetry needs words

Review of Total Eclipse (1995)

Review of Total Eclipse (1995) movie, by Stefan Stenudd


Of course there is pain and monstrosity in love. Two wild poets would need to live that out. But can a movie about it make any sense, without a fair portion of their poetry?



       Michelangelo said that painting excels when it approaches sculpture, and sculpture when it comes close to relief. An art form is enhanced when nearing its periphery, almost turning into another art form. Along this line, I am sure that the poetry of Rimbaud and Verlaine would have stood forward excellently, when recited in the movie about their relation. It would also have helped in making their interactions understandable.

       After seeing the movie a second time, I read some of Rimbaud's writings, and there was a slightly different character emerging from his words, than the one portrayed, though excellently, by Leonardo DiCaprio. Rimbaud's own words show that he was a victim just as much as a predator. Of course, he would say so, himself, but also: this modification would have made the movie rise beyond the black and white polarity it is too often caught in.

       Still, I enjoyed the movie tremendously, mostly thanks to Leo and the way he made his character fire up. He might have been type-cast, to do the obnoxious adolescent, but they got more than they bargained for - he included the most important aspect of Rimbaud: the prodigy poet, the artist living for art, loving for art.

       His acting is sometimes stunning, and not only in delicate scenes where minute nuances are essential, but also in all kinds of silliness in between. To hear him bark like a dog, really like a dog - did he do that himself, or was there an added sound effect? The pause, and the slightly humorous expression on his face, right before he tells his fellow poet that he expects more from him than his words. His posture and cocky moving about in the Paris of the noble poets, and his running on all four in the countryside. Brilliant acting.

       There's a lot of formidable acting also on behalf of the others in the cast, even when the script and the direction works against them. And it does, more than once. Maybe the plot got all confused, simply because the poetry of the poets was not taken into account.

       But a film gone awry can still be a wonderful experience. Frustrating, but wonderful. This one is.

Stefan Stenudd
6 January 2003




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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both Swedish and English. I'm also an artist, an historian of ideas and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.