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Constant, Avant le Depart

A Film by Maarten Schmidt & Thomas Doebele

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"Creation and revolutionary struggle have the same objective: the realization of life."
—Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys

Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920-2005)—painter, printmaker and internationally influential urban theorist—was one of the most important members of the Dutch avant-garde. Known simply as Constant, he studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, and was later influenced by Cubism and German Expressionism. During the 1940's he was a cofounder of the Cobra Movement and the Experimentele Groep Holland and later become involved with Guy Debord's Situationist International movement. A politically engaged artist, many of Nieuwenhuys's paintings portrayed the Vietnam War, African famine, and refugees from Kosovo.

As the title suggests, CONSTANT, AVANT LE DEPART was filmed in the last months of his life. It visits the artist in his studio as he adds the final touches to his last work, "Le Piège (The Trap)," explains his slow, deliberate working method (he will often stare at a canvas for weeks), displays some of his earlier paintings, reminiscences about his early life, discusses his artistic philosophy (the best paintings are those which "with great simplicity illustrate maximum expression"), and socializes with visiting friends, his wife, and ever-present pet dog, Tikus.

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Constant and his wife also visit Amsterdam's National Museum, whose collection includes many of his paintings, and revisit the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, where he views for the last time Titian's "La Pieta," a painting he regards as a masterpiece of composition and color, and which as a young man he studied for days.

These present-day scenes of the elderly artist, who speaks with droll detachment about his impending demise, are periodically contrasted with black-and-white archival footage of himself as a young, rebellious artist in the 50's, 60's and 70's, including work on his decades-long "New Babylon" project, a futuristic series of collages and models expressing utopian visions of urban development. CONSTANT, AVANT LE DEPART is a touching portrait, a poignant overview of a creative life, once lived full tilt, now coming to its inevitable end.

"While Constant Nieuwenhuys may be far from a household name, the themes he wrestled with in his art resonate far beyond his own place and time. His work is emblematic not only of the turbulent twentieth-century in which he lived but of the larger human condition. Constant, Avant le Depart is an insightful and sensitive look back on a life as it draws to a close-in all its color and complexity. It is highly recommended for libraries with collections in the arts and broadly related subjects."—Louise Greene, Art Library, University of Maryland, Educational Media Reviews Online

2006 Rotterdam International Film Festival
2006 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival
2006 Visions du Réel

81 minutes / Color
Dutch / English subtitles
Release: 2006
Copyright: 2005

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Aging, Architecture, Art, Biographies, Death and Dying, Family Relations, French History, Urban Studies, Western Europe

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