The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: September 11 - 18, 1997

[Boston Film Festival]

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[Artemisia] Agnes Merlet's warm, sensuous bio-pic about Europe's first acknowledged female painter is as much a tale of sexual awakening as it is a feminist anthem. Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi (a delicious Valentina Cervi), the daughter of a renowned Italian painter, exhibits her father's talent, but in the chauvinistic world of early-1600s Italy women are forbidden to paint human nudes or enter the Academy of Arts. So Artemisia seeks the tutelage of Agostino Tassi (Mike Manojlovic), her father's collaborator in painting frescoes for secular clients, and a man notorious for his night-time debauchery. The two hone their skills as artists, but when their relationship moves into the realm of physical pleasure, Agostino is clearly the master and Artemisia the apprentice.

Merlet's film is lavish in its dark, opulent composition, and the sexual encounters maintain a tastefully erotic edge, but the plot eventually deteriorates from compelling drama into a boorish courtroom scene that can only be likened to The Crucible minus any emotional conviction. Merlet's eye is in the right place -- and in Cervi she has an alluring piece of art -- but she fails to complete what promised to be a masterpiece. Screens at the Kendall Square Friday the 12th at 7 and 9:15 p.m. and Saturday the 13th at noon and 2:15 p.m. Director Agnes Merlet and star Valentina Cervi will appear before Friday's 7 p.m. screening.

-- Tom Meek

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