Hollywood Jesus: Chagall-Malevich film review

Chagall-Malevich-hollywood-jesus
“New art is a conversation between man and God.”

Chagall-Malevich is mixture of love story, art history, Russian history, and surprisingly (or maybe not) a meditation of the ways art reflects both the human and divine spirits. The film centers on artist Marc Chagall during the years between 1914 and 1920. Chagall, who was establishing himself as a painter in France, returned to his native Russia to marry. When World War I began he became stranded there. When the October Revolution came, even more changes took place. Chagall is appointed a local commissar for art in Vitebsk and establishes the Academy of Modern Art.

Watch the trailer below.

For Chagall, art had the potential of being able to overcome violence and establish a society that would been set free from war. For him art was an extension of revolution. So he seemed to fit in well with the Communists who were taking power. Even more revolutionary was one of the artists he invited to teach at the Academy, Kasimir Malevich, the founder of Suprematism. Soon there were two very different groups of students, some who followed Chagall and others who followed Malevich.

While both teachers speak of art in revolutionary terms, they both manage to run afoul of the local military leader who is constantly looking for opposition. For Chagall, his Jewish roots (which come out in his art at times) raise questions. For Malevich, the idea that he is creating a sect (complete with very Christian symbolism) draws the attention of the authorities.

The film often has a bit of a tilted camera, which reflects the abstraction in the art of both Chagall and Malevich. It also has some points with surrealism which reflects Chagall’s art. The film seeks to not just tell a story of these artists, but also to give us a bit of an experience of their art and the environment in which that art developed.

The love story part of the film deals with Chagall and his wife Bella. While Chagall was in France, Bella was courted by Naum, a poet who after the revolution becomes the local commissar. It is he who has targeted Chagall and Malevich, not without the thought that it would make Bella available once again. One of the big differences between Chagall and Naum is that Naum has set aside his own creative work of poetry. For him art is secondary to the revolution; for Chagall revolution and art must be intertwined. Bella, at times set in the middle of these two strong wills, firmly sides with her husband and his understanding of the importance of art for the world.

From a religious perspective, this film is of interest because of the way religion finds its way into the art. Chagall’s work often carries a religious theme (even though his identification with Judaism throughout his life was a bit tentative). In later years he designed stained glass for Christian cathedrals. Malevich essentially “baptizes” his students into art. In the film he calls form “liturgy” and “the holy water of art”. Perhaps the quotation at the beginning of this review (spoken by Malevich in the film) may give us a way to think about art. Chagall-Malevich invites us to think of the way art reflects our spirit and reveals the spirit of God around us.

— Darrel Manson, Hollywood Jesus.

Chagall-Malevich official page.