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The Adventurers of Modern Art
Directed by Amelie Harrault, Pauline Gaillard and Valerie Loiseleux
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Adapted from Dan Franck’s literary trilogy Bohemian Paris, Libertad! and Midnight, the story plunges us into Parisian life at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hotbed of artistic creation with the blossoming of Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. Through illustrations, animation and original documents, the 6-part series, which is constructed as a fiction, traces the highs and lows, scandals and celebrations, tragedies and triumphs that shaped the phenomenal period of Modern Art from the basement of the “Bateau-lavoir“ in 1900 to the last shudders of World War II. The infamous protagonists include Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gertrude Stein, Kiki, André Gide, André Malraux and Robert Capa. All of them artists and intellectuals who came to France from across Europe and left an indelible mark on the 20th century. These glorious subversives were adventurers before becoming heroes.

Episode 1: Bohemia

In joyous, early 20th century Montmartre, a band of penniless artists comprising Max Jacob, Picasso, Apollinaire, Derain and Vlaminck, among others, takes up residence in an old piano factory : le Bateau-Lavoir.

Soon enough, anyone who is anyone in the way of painters, writers, and art collectors is rubbing shoulders in the shabby-chic hallways of their warehouse. The bohemian lifestyle that they cultivate revolves around doing work, meeting muses, and making merry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Seine, Matisse, known for leading a life of austerity, is busy turning the established order upside down at the Salon d’Automne of 1905, exhibiting works that burst with flamboyant color. Fauvism is born. From within the murky halls of the Bateau-Lavoir, Picasso prepares his response. Paying homage to their respective visions of modernity, the two painters ready their brushes for a contest of canvases.

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Episode 2: Picasso and His Gang

Picasso responds to Matisse with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The canvas causes a scandal and ushers in the aesthetic of cubism.

Not long thereafter, however, a series of rifts occur. Picasso, now wealthy from record sales figures, leaves the Bateau-Lavoir. Apollinaire moves into the heart of the Saint-Germain neighborhood. The poet Max Jacob, the poorest of them all, is one of the only bohemians to continue living in the hardscrabble misery of Montmartre.

When the First World War breaks out, yesterday’s friends part ways forever. Braque, Derain, and Vlaminck go to the front. Picasso stays in Paris. Apollinaire is wounded on the front lines in 1916.

Episode 3: Paris Capital of the World

On being released from the hospital, Apollinaire discovers what life is like in Paris during the war. In Montparnasse, foreign artists - most of whom are Jewish, having fled the anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe - are dying of hunger. They form the School of Paris.

Soutine, the poorest of the Russian artists, strikes up a friendship with Modigliani, the handsomest of the Italians. In 1917, Apollinaire stages a performance his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias using the subheading “surrealist drama.”
The word “surrealist” is born. It catches on, becoming common currency in art circles around the globe. One year later, Apollinaire succumbs to the Spanish flu. Modigliani passes away on January 24, 1920. His funeral, attended by all the artists of Montparnasse, brings the age of bohemianism to a definitive end.

Episode 4: The Enchanters of Montparnasse

The war has ended, and the streets erupt in celebration. Montparnasse swings to the rhythms of jazz and hops to the buzz of lively cafés. Paris is a movable feast. Conceived as reactions against the absurdity of war, the Dadaist and Surrealist revolutions are underway.

Leading the charge are “the three musketeers”: Breton, Aragon, and Soupault, backed by Man Ray, Desnos, Tzara, and many others. In 1919, one of the major works of the Surrealist movement is unveiled : Les Champs magnétiques.
The model Kiki, revered by every painter of the day and poised to be crowned queen of Montparnasse, has a tumultuous love affair with Man Ray before he takes off with Lee Miller.

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Episode 5: Libertad!

The interwar period is significant for its tumults of enthusiasm and illusion. Communism is a tempting alternative, and the desire for social, moral, artistic, and political revolution hangs in the air...

In 1936, war erupts in Spain. Malraux and Hemingway are covering the Republicans’ struggle as journalists, and photos by Capa and Gerda Taro get published in the international press, fostering a broader awareness of the conflict.
In April 1937, the Guernica massacre inspires Picasso to create a monumental canvas symbolizing the violence perpetrated by Franco’s supporters and by fascism more generally. The Spanish Republic is lost, and one war ends as another begins.

Episode 6: Midnight in Paris

World War Two erupts, and France mobilizes its war effort. After the debacle of June 1940 and the Occupation of Nazi Germany, Europe is in tatters, and artists and intellectuals flee in droves.

Old friends among those who stay behind are eventually torn apart. Some collaborate, some resist - many make do as they can, and others pay for their commitment with their lives. When the war at last is over, Paris reawakens to find that an astonishing work has been created from within its war-torn midst : the film "Les Enfants du paradis", an homage to freedom written by Jacques Prévert and masterfully directed by Marcel Carné.

“The astonishingly inventive visual rendering borders on perfection. This exceptional documentary series above all revolutionizes the way of looking at art documentaries and even the way of recounting, on television, History with a capital ‘H’.” —Le Nouvel Observateur

 “[An] absolutely brilliant documentary series sparkling with creativity and carried by the gusts of an unusual collective adventure. Held together from start to finish by a lively and spirited narrative perfectly matched by astonishing graphic art, in which humor competes with emotion, this series educates us as much as it entertains us. [THE ADVENTURERS OF MODERN ART] will certainly be a landmark in the world of animated documentaries.” —Le Monde

 “This series is in itself revolutionary in its form. It radiates ingenuity and beauty.” —L’Humanité

 A touching and indispensable saga.” —Beaux Arts Magazine

Best Documentary of 2015, French Syndicate of Cinema Critics (Paris, France)
Best Documentary Series of 2015, Club de l’Audiovisuel (Paris, France)

300 minutes / Color
English; French
Release: 2020
Copyright: 2015

For individual consumers (home video)

This DVD is sold for private, home use only.

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Subject areas:
France, Art, World War II, Western Europe, Animated Films

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