Paula chronicles the short but dynamic life and career of Paula Modersohn-Becker, one of the pioneers of Expressionist painting. From her early days as a headstrong student in Worpswede, where she met husband and fellow artist Otto Modersohn, to her extended stays in Paris in the early 1900s where she was said to have produced her most compelling works.
Similar to that of her career, the film Paula seems to meander and even stagnate in its earlier portions as it struggles to find significance and meaning. It is only in the final third of the movie that viewers will find themselves engaged. In that respect, it is a very accurate portrayal of Becker’s life as a young artist, in which she struggles to find her voice, so long blanketed by teachers and her education in the style of Realism.
Despite pacing imitating life, Paula is a very immersive experience. From the beautifully composed photography of rural Germany, which director Schwochow meticulously recreates to draw audiences into Becker’s palette and reality, to intricacies in almost every aspect of the film – production design, performance, and even societal landscape.
At many opportunities hammering the message home that “women will never create real art”, Paula also more subtly portrays the contrasts between the lives of privileged society in the German countryside to the bohemian underbelly of Paris at the turn of the century. That said, the position – or lack thereof – of women does seem to be a recurring topic throughout. Easily missed is the fact that Modersohn-Becker, though defiant and rebellious, did enjoy financial security throughout her career. Those who don’t pick up on this may see her story, and even the film, as a little glossed over.
Overall the title character of Paula is a fascinating study unto herself, and actress Carla Juri emulates this multi-faceted woman in her performance. However the film struggles to distinguish itself amongst other biopics of its kind, or to even provide insights into Paula Modersohn-Becker’s life beyond what a history book could illustrate. Its redeeming factor is its visual indulgence, Paula is a beckoning film to behold.
Is Paula screening worthy?
Paula is a very pause-able film. While its subject is interesting both as an individual and within the world she inhabits, it can be a little difficult to sit through the 2+ hours of this movie without a break. As such, it’s better suited for Netflix/Video on Demand viewing than at a theatre.
Paula screens Wednesday, March 8, 2017 to Friday, March 10, 2017 at Jackman Hall as part of the AGO Art + Cinema. Check their website for more information.