This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
One of the perennial dilemmas of movie biographies is that it is easy to film gossip and hard to film art. Thus we get great artists who spend vast quantities of time in bed, leaping up occasionally to dash off a painting, when in real life it was probably more a case of hours spent at work, and then a quick leap into the sack.
Pablo Picasso was one of the more notorious lovers of the century, a man who did not disrespect women so much as value them highly as replaceable possessions. His first love was art, his second love was himself, his third love was what women could do for him. During the decades of his greatness there was no shortage of women eager to see it his way.
In “Surviving Picasso,” one of his mistresses, Dora Maar, says, “Without him, there is nothing. After Picasso, only God.” And another of his lovers, the faithful Marie-Therese Walter, complains sadly of her poverty while still saving every Thursday and Sunday for his visits. (She is the only person he will trust to cut his hair and nails, and she saves all of the clippings--at his insistence, to be sure, not hers.) “Surviving Picasso” is the story of one lover who was not destroyed by Picasso: Francoise Gilot, who was his mistress from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, bore him two children, and walked away in one piece. Played by Natascha McElhone, she is an elegant young woman who projects more confidence than she probably feels the first time she enters Picasso's studio.
He has picked her up in Le Petit Benoit, a little Left Bank bistro, leaving Dora's table to join her, and in his invitation he's left little doubt of his intentions: “Come and see me--but come as if you like me, not because you're visiting the Holy Shrine of Fatima.” There is another warning signal as she enters: “You're now in the labyrinth of the Minotaur,” he says, “who perishes if he doesn't devour at least two young ladies a day.” Why did so many women find Picasso irresistible, even in his old age? Perhaps because he felt himself to be irresistible. And certainly because he was Picasso, who through one period and into another successfully maintained his reputation as the century's greatest artist.