L’Amour Monstre de tous les temps: threadbare portrait of Serbian-born French painter

Walerian Borowczyk, “L’Amour Monstre de tous les temps: Portrait de Ljuba” (1977)

Borowczyk gave up directing animation films in the late 1960s and turned to live-action films, never looking back. “L’Amour Monstre de tous les temps” is a short silent documentary on Ljuba Popovic, a surrealist painter originally from Serbia and living in France when the film was made. Popovic’s paintings are noted for their eroticism and unusual subject matter and the style, from the little I have seen of them, looks light and airy, delicate and even fairy-like though monsters and ugly little beasties feature alongside naked or semi-naked women. The paintings combine beauty and malevolence, anguish and something refined, and a tension arises from the constant juxtaposition of strongly contrasting qualities.

The film is quick and follows Popovic closely as he goes about his work, the camera focussing very closely on his brushwork and his fingers smoothing the paint on the canvas. When he is not painting, Popovic is shown walking purposefully in the busy urban streets. The camera is sometimes jerky and the edits come fast. No apparent narrative is presented, there is no voice-over, the film is completely silent save for the music soundtrack (Richard Wagner’s “Tannhauser Overture”) so viewers must figure out for themselves, if they can’t read the French-language caption that introduces the film, what “L’Amour Monstre …” aims to achieve. (The film does show and explain a little the themes of Popovic’s work.)

Popovic’s paintings are distinctive and beautiful and for that reason I felt the film should have been longer (about 30 minutes) and should also have featured at least one short interview in which the painter could explain what he aimed to achieve with his painting, why he wanted to be a painter and how he achieved his ambitions. As it is, the film is a mere snapshot of a day in the life of Ljuba Popovic and nothing more: it doesn’t exactly move viewers to want to find out more about Popovic which should have been its aim. Basic biographical information and a list of selected notable works should have been included. Viewers would probably be better off Googling Popovic’s name to find out about significant works he has done and then do a search on Google Image to view any paintings uploaded there.

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