I'm in the middle of reviewing the Edinburgh International Film Festival! I've seen ten excellent films so far, but one that made a particular impression on me is Calvet (you can read my review here). This is the amazing story of how Jean Marc Calvet's life was transformed when he discovered art.
I was delighted yesterday to be able to chat with Jean Marc and with Dominic Allan, the director of the film.
Jean Marc Calvet had a hard childhood and an early career as a bodyguard, a French Legionnaire and a vice cop. He abandoned his partner and young son to take a shady job in the USA, which led to him absconding to Central America with huge amounts of cash he had stolen from his employer.
Dominic Allan has worked in TV, directing such films as The Pipeline; Mandela: The Living Legend and Israel Undercover. He was travelling in Nicaragua in 2004, when he met Jean Marc in a restaurant, which was decorated with huge paintings. These paintings of Jean Marc's made a big impression on Dominic but it was only two years later that he had the idea to make a film about how art had transformed Jean Marc's life. Jean Marc admitted in our interview that at that stage he hadn't entirely seen Dominic's vision, but that he saw the film project as an extension of the therapy that art already was for him.
The most memorable part of the film for me is where Jean Marc discovers painting as therapy. There is an extended sequence of impressionistic visuals and soundscapes that recreate the drug-fuelled hallucinations that Jean Marc experienced for several months while he had imprisoned himself in his house in Costa Rica. At some point, he discovers several pots of paints and literally starts throwing the paint around the rooms. At this stage, Jean Marc says, he would deny he was an artist, when people asked him. It was only five years later, when someone contacted him wanting to put on an exhibition of his work in New York that he realised that he was a real artist.
Jean Marc has used lots of different styles in his art. In his early days as a painter, people would compare his work to Jackson Pollock or Jean-Michel Basquait but he'd never heard of these artists. So he set out to learn as much as he could about art and became an avid reader of art magazines. He is entirely self-taught and uses different styles depending on what best fits what he wants to say. Art, he said, is like a 'big walk inside' himself.
Jean Marc is now a respected artist and is inspiring the next generation of artists, not least his own daughter, who is deaf. She is allowed a lot of freedom in his studio where she enjoyed expressing herself through art and she appears briefly in the film.
Dominic had wanted to use film techniques that would best capture the immediacy of Jean Marc's art and the intensity of his life story. He wanted to mostly avoid reconstructions of the past (though one scene in Jean Marc's old house on Costa Rica is a very effective reconstruction with slides of his first paintings projected onto the now white-washed walls). Dominic chose to intercut the narrative with segments of impressionistic film to suit the mood of the story. This approach works brilliantly and really does give the film a sense of immediacy and emotional impact.
Dominic said he wants to make films that are inspiring and Calvet certainly is! The film should be touring various film festivals in the next few months and hopefully should get released into cinemas after that. If you get the chance, see it! Meanwhile you can see some of Jean Marc's paintings and read more about his life on his website here.
You can visit the Calvet website here and there's a Facebook page for the film here.
Thanks to Edinburgh International Film Festival for making this interview possible and to Jean Marc and Dominic for making the time to chat to me!
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.