The lushness of a Modigliani is largely absent from Modigliani, a seemingly made-for-BBC biopic of the volatile Montmartre painter, sculptor, and Picasso contemporary. Andy Garcia immerses himself in ”Modi,” luxuriating in his rumpled vanity and clownish self-loathing, his bourgeois drive for financial success vying with his proud, penniless bohemianism. Beneath it all, Garcia locates a crushing insecurity, escaping in surges of exhibitionistic alcoholism and self-destructive histrionics. But the picture itself cannot contain or contextualize his queasy, reeling energy; it is a tidy stack of snapshots, unencumbered by a point of view.
Modigliani pinballs between what the filmmakers consider the twin foci of their subject’s career: his rivalry with Picasso (Omid Djalili, presenting Pablo as an appealing, if cartoonish, cross between a pasha and the fat kid picked last for sports) and his love affair with the last and greatest of his paramours, Jeanne Hebuterne (Elsa Zylberstein, who, with her large, capsizing eyes and elongated features, was a casting choice so eerily apt she’s essentially a special effect).
Lovely muses aside, Picasso and Modigliani are the real couple to watch here, though you do wish their interactions would get beyond the Montmartre equivalent of nanny-nanny-boo-boo. (”Pablo, how do you make love to a cube?”) The bigger problem is Modigliani‘s strange dearth of Modiglianis. Perhaps a deeper dip into his sumptuous, fever-ripe work would better illustrate how a great lover of life unconsciously, perhaps instinctively, ended up choosing death.