Jean Marc Calvet purges his soul in this outstanding documentary directed by Dominic Allan. It is a fine piece of work that is ultimately an auto-biographical feature and acts as a form of catharsis for Calvet to relate his past transgressions as the director made the brave and justified decision not to include contributions from any other interviewees. What the audience is then left with is Calvet’s own explanations into what drives his artistic creativity and how his chequered and vividly coloured past – drug addiction, rape, theft, a spell in the Foreign Legion and a period working as a rent boy- informs his intricate and often disturbing work. Allan also manages to capture intimate and genuinely compelling moments as Calvet attempts some form of rapprochement with his eighteen year old son whom he abandoned twelve years previously. It is this part of the film that adds yet another dimension to an already fascinating portrait as the viewer is left in as much doubt as Calvet himself as to how this situation will pan out.
Opening with shots of Calvet’s art work – all demonic swirls and complex detail juxtaposed with vivid colour palettes- Calvet begins his tale in earnest. Stories range from the time he had to leave Miami tout de suite after defrauding 600,000 dollars to his brutal rape in a public toilet are di rigeur in this tale of an artist who had to sink to the lowliest depths of the demi-monde before reaping some form of salvation and ultimately redemption in the form of his art. His art in many ways resembles this film as he purges his soul in front of the omnipresent camera capturing him visually spewing forth over a canvas in a violent outpouring of emotion. Comparisons have been made as regards to Jackson Pollock but I also detected a definite Keith Haring influence. The sentiments and the demons are all Calvet’s own however as is this film which allows Calvet to share his story and in doing so garner a sense of relief and a clearer purpose in how he intends to pursue his future. Calvet allows uninhibited access into many private moments and unlike many films of this genre which attempt to do this there is something about this particular effort that feels genuine. Perhaps Calvet’s contriteness and willingness to apologise and try to redeem past mistakes go a long way to gaining the audience’s support and you would have to be stone hearted not to want him to succeed.
At the conclusion of the film a certain sense of a clearer future looks set for Calvet. A recent New York show saw his paintings being valued at six figure numbers. Personally he seems to have reached a sense of stability also and how this will affect his work in the future is unclear. What is clear however is that Calvet makes an outstanding, intriguing and sympathetic source of subject matter and he and Allan should be proud in delivering this document which details an artist who could be to the art world what Jean Genet was to the literary world.
Calvet is on More 4 on Tuesday 13 December at 11.15pm