I, Claude Monet

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Biographical documentary

Availability: At theatres, and online at https://seventh-art.com/product/i-claude-monet/

Storyline: This is another documentary in the Exhibition on Screen series by Seventh Art Productions, a leading independent producer of art films for cinema that are then made available online. British filmmaker Phil Grabsky writes, directs and produces many of the films, including this one that explores the life and works of the French painter and leading Impressionist, Claude Monet. The documentary takes us on a journey through Monet’s life, first as a young painter, then as husband and father, and finally Monet as an old man – still painting but challenged by a debilitating illness. 

Film-craft: I, Claude Monet departs from the usual Exhibition on Screen gallery-film approach that  focuses on a particular exhibition of an artist’s work (see for example Vermeer – the greatest exhibition  https://marieconnollybooks.com/Blog/2023/04/28/vermeer-the-greatest-exhibition/). This documentary is far more personal, spanning Monet’s life and relying entirely on the artist’s own words – his personal letters and diaries – to tell the story. Grabsky augments this very personal narration with archival footage and images of Monet’s art and the locations from which he drew his inspiration. The music, by award-winning British composer Stephen Baysted, complements the film beautifully, resulting in an elegant, visually arresting and thoughtful film. 

Cast: Henry Goodman is impressive as the documentary’s narrator. He brings Monet’s voice to life capturing the excitement of the artist’s early artistic successes, his professional frustrations, and his harrowing distress wrought by financial hardship and family tragedy. So good is the narration, it is almost as if Monet is in conversation with us, as if we might be a friend with whom he shares personal aspects of his life and experience.  

Personal Comments: Grabsky’s approach in these art history documentaries is to bring to the screen the human story behind the art, and he certainly does this in the aptly titled I, Claude Monet. It is an intimate film, slow and meandering in places, but with a powerful intensity that engages the gamut of the artist’s and viewer’s emotions.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Crime mystery

Availability: Apple TV (Aus/NZ), Kanopy (NZ), Britbox

Storyline: Based on three of Michael Dibdin’s popular crime dramas, this is a story of Aurelio Zen, an honest detective working for the Italian police in Rome. As a Venetian he is an outsider, but what really sets him apart is his respectful attitudes toward people, and in particular, women. Suave, sophisticated and pushing forty, he is separated from his wife and living with his mother. Zen always pays for his own espresso and his reputation for integrity is well known, something that also distinguishes him from his colleagues in the force. But Aurelio’s crime-fighting tactics are not free from the odd transgression as he explores the moral imperfections of the Italian police, the political system, and Italian society itself.

Film-craft: Comprising three 90 minute films Zen has all the trappings of a quality series, beautifully filmed, written and directed. It is visually arresting, with none of the grimness of Scandinavian noir’s gritty plots and dark violent stories. There are no bleak landscapes. Rather, it’s full of style, beautiful people and glorious buildings bathed in golden sunshine. With a screenplay that has more than its fair share of fun and romance, it’s almost like being in Rome, except that everyone is speaking English. And I have to admit, that takes some getting used to. Like Wallander, it’s British stablemate, Zen has UK actors in most of the lead roles – except for the women who are invariably played by Italians, which is interesting in itself.  

Cast: Whether British or Italian, Zen most certainly has a stellar cast. The seriously handsome Rufus Sewell is superb as Aurelio Zen. Perfect in every scene, he brings a charming and understated presence to the character. After a while it’s even possible to stop hearing his accent and start enjoying the lightness of his character. Caterina Murano is also stunning as Zen’s love interest Tania Moretti, and Ben Miles playing the powerful government officer Amedeo Colonna brings exactly the right ambiguity to his role as he tries his best to compromise Zen. 

Personal Comments: First aired by the BBC in 2011, Zen is something of a hidden gem. It is stylish and entertaining with a vintage approach that just manages to carry off any wobbles in the plot. So if you enjoy the delights of Italian cities and detective stories such as Donna Leon’s Brunetti (Venice) or the long-standing Montalbano (Sicily), you may very well like this one.