The decision to cast -- and keep the camera pointed at -- magnetic leading man Vincent
Cassel is the most novel aspect of the otherwise staid French biopic Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti.
It’s a Lust for Life-like period drama, following master artist Paul Gauguin as he abandons his
wife and children and moves to French Polynesia, convinced that a change in environment will
improve his fortune.
Cassel (La Haine, Sheitan) dominates virtually every shot, except the sequences where his
character observes (from off-screen) his paintings' subjects: the shores of Tahiti as well
as his Polynesian mistress/muse Tehura (Tuheï Adams). Director Edouard Deluc and his
three co-writers focus on Gauguin's perspective, often reducing Cassel to an emotional lightning
rod for their trite post-colonialist narrative. Even worse is when Gauguin dwells on Tehura's
sexual relationship with his Tahitian apprentice Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), an affair that never
happened in real life.
Thankfully, Cassel's intimidating body language -- especially his hunched shoulders,
halting footsteps and hard stare -- often makes Deluc and his collaborators' version of Gauguin
seem real enough. Deluc wisely films Cassel in long takes whenever words seem to fail
Gauguin, like when Cassel glares suspiciously at Malik Zidi's well-meaning doctor Henri after he
warns Gauguin that he must seek treatment back in France following a serious heart
attack. Cassel's Gauguin may ultimately be a lightweight cinematic descendant of
the monstrous European pioneers that Klaus Kinski played in Aguirre, the Wrath of
God and Fitzcarraldo, but he's also both menacing and pitiable enough to make Gauguin:
Voyage to Tahiti riveting on a moment-to-moment basis. (Simon Abrams)