This intriguing psychodrama is an attempt to bring to life the various forces that motivated French Romantic painter Theodore Gericault. The result is both startling and satisfying.
Gericault (Miguel Bose) is a young painter obsessed with horses. He is thrilled to meet Franconi (Bartabas, also MAZEPPA's writer and director), the Master of the Olympic Circus and premiere horse trainer of all France, who offers him an opportunity to live with the circus company.
Gericault is plunged into a bizarre world of eccentric outcasts. Although this offers him ample opportunity to sketch and paint from life, Franconi constantly challenges and humiliates him, even making him bunk in the stables beneath the circus ring. Gericault finally learns that the
relationship between horse and rider is complicated; a horse must be wooed like a lover. His artistic sensibility expanded to the point of passion shared by Franconi, Gericault experiences a creative release that defies the staid artistic conventions of his day. Franconi mocks Gericault for his
increasingly unhappy pursuit of fame, aware that his own theatrical artistry as a horse trainer lives only as long as it remains in the public eye. A Ukrainian circus rider spins the legend of Mazeppa to Gericault: A page is caught making love to his master's bride. He is punished by being
strapped naked to a wild horse, released to run amok. The legend possesses Gericault, making it impossible to artistically branch out into portraiture (when he does, his portraits all have the eyes of wild horses); as if imitating the Mazeppa story himself, Gericault begins an affair with a young
woman who rides in the circus, even though she's Franconi's mistress.
A furor erupts over the relationship, not only from Franconi, but from all the circus performers who resent the betrayal of their master. The girl is imprisoned atop the circus building in a raging thunderstorm and chooses to jump to her death. Gericault's fragile psyche cracks. Still wielding
power as a result of his artistic prominence, he has himself lashed to a horse on a mechanical treadmill. The treadmill, formerly used for his life studies of horses, is set at a ceaseless gallop, the gait Gericault found most evocative and difficult to capture.
MAZEPPA is no decorous period piece. Bartabas has fashioned a fluid screenplay, and his camera always finds something interesting to focus on, especially once it reaches the perversities of the circus. In real life, director/actor/co-screenwriter Bartabas is an impresario and horse trainer for
the famed Theatre Equestre Zingaro; he cast MAZEPPA with members of his troupe and use his own theatre, built on the site of an ancient Aubervilliers fort. The result has a remarkable aura of authenticity, and the director is well-served by his cinematographer, set and costume designer, and the
rest of his technical staff.
MAZEPPA abounds in startling, hypnotic imagery, much of it pertaining to horses. A circus girl, waiting for her horse--white, with a creamy, Botticelli-like mane--throws back her head beneath the horse's throat and hides in its mane, daring the camera to watch as this image is intercut with an
effeminate, laughing clown, shaving despite full circus make-up. Gericault helps pull a foal from a mare, and sees the mare with birth placenta still clinging to her, coaxing her colt to walk. (Amazingly, the colt has a solid brown head and neck on a white body.) MAZEPPA spares no opportunity to
offer up the unusual. A group of children with Downs Syndrome alternate between laughter and dismay as they observe a dappled grey stallion fornicate---quite graphically---with a chestnut mare. A dead circus girl's funeral pyre is a gigantic chaise of flowers encircled by rows of galloping white
stallions---an image both heavenly and hellish.
The hypnotic world of MAZEPPA, which captures so compellingly the feverish sexual component of artistic creation, is only appropriate for mature audiences. (Violence, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: This intriguing psychodrama is an attempt to bring to life the various forces that motivated French Romantic painter Theodore Gericault. The result is both startling and satisfying. Gericault (Miguel Bose) is a young painter obsessed with horses. He is… (more)