This review was updated on Mar. 2, 2004.
Art history, as envisioned by helmer and solo drawer Luis Eduardo Aute (himself a singer and composer of some note — in fact, narration-free pic is backgrounded by music), is a highly personal affair almost entirely composed of black-and-white sketchpad-like renderings. The seven “portraits” of assorted artists and their (usually nude) muses, starting with Goya and ending with Velasquez in no apparent chronological order, bear enigmatic titles like “There are no witches, but they do exist” and proceed with a loopy, angst-filled dream logic that defies exposition. A difficult, arcane film, “Pain” creates minimalist fascination in its slow-moving rhythm, but this lugubrious animated thinkpiece probably will prove a hard sell outside the fest circuit, particularly since some of its profiled Spanish artists are virtually unknown here.
Pic appears to depend on a detailed knowledge of art history, as the who’s-who of depicted painters and their contemporaries is not revealed until the end credits. In fact, however, it’s easier to access Aute’s oblique vision if one doesn’t try too hard to decipher the specific references that maddeningly abound. The opening Goya segment, with its instantly recognizable Naked Maja and political execution scenes, sets up false expectations of readability. For even if one knows “Un Chien Andalou” backward and forward, and can ascertain that the figure in bed with Salvador Dali is the poet Lorca and that filmmaker Luis Bunuel is standing, in the background, on a pillar from his “Simon of the Desert” set, nothing can explain the even more surreal goings-on in the segment entitled “Each one is . . . in Cadaques.”
Film directors somewhat incongruously pop up in conjunction with easel artists in many of the “portraits.” Eisenstein’s presence in the Frida Kahlo segment, along with Trotsky (whose death in Mexico is re-created with much poetic license) is at least nearly contemporaneous with “Que Viva Mexico.” What Orson Welles has to do with Joachim Sorolla y Basida’s seascapes, on the other hand, is anybody’s guess.
Aute rarely uses animation to give the illusion of movement or life. Eyes blink methodically to denote consciousness. Action is conceived as a strictly limited series of key moments that slowly overlap one another in finely wrought B&W “still life” studies.
Art for Aute is a constantly evolving web of cultural, historical, political and poetical associations, often involving skulls, wombs, skulls coming out of wombs, light bulbs, lanterns, lots of naked women and, of course, the dog of the title. It seems that “Pain,” like art, is an acquired taste.