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I still can't quite figure out how the inequalities between women and men came to be. Sure, we all know that they've existed throughout time. But how, and when, did somebody, in their supposed wisdom, cook up the idea that women, for example, weren't supposed to write, or express themselves, or to make a living from any kind of work, or even (shudder) to be paid equally to the men, and to have these ideas perpetuate throughout many thousands of years? A recent film called Artemisia doesn't exactly explain that germ of a concept enough to satisfy me, but it still is another example of the silliness that arises to discourage something as innocent as personal and artistic freedom.

The story is about Artemisia, an Italian woman from the 17th century, whose father is a well-respected painter of religious art. She wants to follow in her father's footsteps, but many obstacles are in her way, not least of which is that everyone thinks it is improper for a woman to do such a thing. For example, it is not considered moral for a woman to paint male nudes, so right in the middle of working on the project, Artemisia's father, to her chagrin, orders his partners to place a large sheet in front of her so she won't be corrupted by such a sight. Artemisia is no stranger to nudity, however, as she has already drawn a nude portrait of herself, and also lures a young man with a crush on her to disrobe so she can finally get a chance to draw a male form.

A famous artist shows up to help work on the project, and Artemisia is fascinated by him. Eventually, she becomes his pupil, learning all the tricks of the trade. Eventually, however, they become lovers, and this is where the real trouble begins. The artist is charged by Artemisia's father for having raped her, and Artemisia's world begins to fall apart.

The film is really about art, and not about sex, although you wouldn't know it from the video box, in which blurbs from respectable critics say things like "Erotic", and "Sexy". The box also points out that Miramax successfully appealed the ratings board's original NC-17 rating, and therefore made it a mere R rating. So apparently this is a soft-porn extravaganza, right? I don't know. I think it's more that some people will get turned on by anything, and to absolve their guilt rate a film that's about art with a classification that, when it was still the X rating, ended up being associated with hard-core pornography. Recently, I've seen At First Sight, with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, and certainly I found that to be much more erotic than anything Artemisia had to offer, and that film was a PG-13. In actuality, there is nothing in this film to suggest that this is anything more than a story of a woman who determined to be as curious and as free as any other artist would be.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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