Artemisia Gentileschi (Valentine Cervi) is a 17-year-old girl in 17th-century Italy with a burning desire to paint. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to study at the Academy and, especially, paint what Artemesia wants above all to immortalize: the male nude. Her father, Orazio (Michel Serrault), tries to be supportive of his gifted, frustrated daughter. He allows her to take lessons from the great Tassi (Miki Manojlovic), with whom he shares a church fresco commission. Nubile Artemisia learns a few things besides perspective from Tassi, and their affair lands them both in the soup.
The term 'Eurotrash' can sometimes be as easily applied to films as well as obstreperous, cellphone-wielding, Gucci-draped Frenchmen. This is eminently proved by Artemisia, which has high pretenses toward Art in its depiction of the life of the rebellious girl responsible for the famous painting, Judith Beheading Holofemis. The sheer novelty of seeing the male body totally exposed as it so rarely is onscreen, given the strange, chauvinistic puritanism that has traditionally existed in this regard, is enough to give the film a piquant lift at the start (and the models are indeed comely). It's been richly photographed and designed, but soon degenerates into a typical flesh-and-sin charade. You want to see more of the work and exactly what went into it, but such concerns are either beyond or simply don't interest director/co-writer Agnes Merlet. Instead of the sweaty rewards of painting, she gives us sweaty sex scenes and, inevitably, mistily 'poetical' voiceovers ('Faces without eyes, bodies without faces,' 'Earth, sea and sun, the sun dances on the water'-you know the drill). It turns into the usual story of aspiring, gorgeous young thing exploited by a lot of mean ole men. (If only Artemisia weren't so ready to throw her clothes off and jump in the hay with anyone, ostensibly for reasons of artistic research alone...) It all reaches a tacky, unwittingly hilarious apotheosis in the scene in which she is subjected to a physical examination in court to determine the state of her virginity. A nun gets the job done and then, in the subtitle translation, solemnly pronounces, 'She lost it a long time ago.'
Cervi has the slightly messy, nymphet prettiness of Jane March in The Lover and is subjected to a similar unrelenting probe by the camera. By the movie's end, we're entirely familiar with every pore of her constantly exposed body. She sets her little jaw with grim determination and bustles about, but you never believe she has the fire of genius in those eternally undraped loins. Manojlovic plays her opposite number to a tiresome fare-thee-well: the sage, superior and oh-so-experienced man of the world. In its way, his performance is every bit as predictable as hers. As so often with these things, where the male love object is concerned, you rather wonder what all the fuss is about. Hirsute, equine Manojlovic basically seems like any run-of-the-mill, horny college professor. Serrault delivers your standard-issue concerned-old-codger performance. (More might have been made of the girl's tense relationship with her highly conventional mother.) As Artemisia's first model, faun-like Frederic Pierrot evokes the spirit of all painterly lovers of the male physique of that era.