The Mystery of Picasso

Henri-Georges Clouzot's documentary presenting a direct, unfiltered look at Pablo Picasso's creativity is a sort of high art precursor to Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense

Film Review by Lewis Porteous | 24 Jan 2018
Film title: The Mystery of Picasso
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Pablo Picasso
Release date: 22 Jan

The mystery of Picasso, as far as this film is concerned, lay entirely in the painter's technique. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot makes no attempt at psychological excavation of his subject, opting instead to present as direct and unfiltered a glimpse of his process as was conceivable in 1958.

Employing the services of cinematographer Claude Renoir – nephew of Jean – and a specially designed transparent canvas, Clouzot allows us to follow the master's brush strokes with unobstructed clarity. Shooting as his subject creates, we see Picasso's restlessness and improvisational flair. The sketches that form the basis of these works are taken in surprising directions which play out like plot twists, while some initial ideas and intentions are obliterated entirely.

Famously hailed as the 'French Hitchcock', Clouzot shows an admirable restraint in allowing his subject to steer the project. Happily, the director isn't quite able to break the habit of a lifetime, throwing in a typically suspenseful – and in this context, bizarre – scene in which our hero races against time to complete a painting before a roll of film reaches its end. Similar scenes in which we see the chain-smoking filmmaker bark commands at his shirtless, harried genius undermine the movie's aims somewhat, but certainly jolt the viewer at points when they might otherwise find themselves lost in reverie.

Ultimately those who stay engaged with this piece will find it hugely rewarding, a sort of high art precursor to Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, where layers are built upon layers in a dizzying work of artifice and expression.


The extras filling out this disc will satisfy anyone who finds themselves taken by the main feature. An English language, BAFTA winning documentary is almost as engaging as Clouzot's work, though takes us no closer to the man himself, while home movie footage shot by Man Ray is an intimate and unguarded curio. [Lewis Porteous]

Released by Arrow