RIFF Review: Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
is a portrait/exploration of the artist : The Artist is PresentMarina Abramovic as well as a particular show of her’s, “The Artist is Present”. The first half of the movie goes into introducing this amazing artist, her work and her life, while the second half is devoted to looking in-depth and up close at her very unique performance/exhibition “The Artist is Present”.
This film may not sound terribly exciting but not all is as it seems. This writer knew nothing of Abramovic before seeing the movie but she turns out to be an utterly fascinating, truly fearless and very magnetic personality and artist. Something similar can be said about the movie which starts out as a solid, beautifully shot documentary that seems rather straightforward but gradually gets on a deeper level and ends up being transcendent and really moving in the second half.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present is not so much a study of one artist and her work as it is a meditation on art and artists, what it means to be an artist and what exactly this thing we call art is. But it’s rarely too obvious about it.
While the first half of the movie takes a look at who Marina is, what she has done and why she has done those things (among the things she’s done is to cut a pentagram into her stomach and walk the Great China Wall, her works are really hard to describe in short) while the second half takes a look at her exhibit which simply consists of Marina is sitting practically motionless in a chair for eight hours a day, every day, for three months, in The Museum of Modern Art. Audiences members at the museum get a chance to sit opposite her, one at a time, and Marina looks them in the eye. It’s a personal work of art for both Marina and the spectator. In this case the artist herself is the work of art, as is the spectator (or rather, participator). Some are unmoved by this but many are deeply moved and end up crying (among the participants we get to see are James Franco, who doesn’t connect with Marina, and a barely glimpsed Orlando Bloom).
Directors Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre get truly up close and personal and much of the second half is simply shots of people reacting to Marina. In this part the film gradually reaches a transcendent level of beauty that’s hard to describe with words. The viewer truly gets to feel it along with Marina as well as her spectators/participants and it gets almost hypnotic at times. “The Artist is Present” comes off as a work of pure emotion, it is beyond words, possibly something most, if not all, great art aspires to. The movie itself perhaps doesn’t quite manage that level as a whole but it comes pretty close to it in the last third or so.
The film does also have a slight shapelessness to it but then again that may partly be the point and even unavoidable.
Final Verdict: The first half of this movie a solid, gorgeously shot, but rather straightforward doc that develops gradually into something transcendent and beautiful in the second half.