Raúl Ruiz's ambitious but tedious "Klimt" is likely to disappoint those drawn to it if they attended the recent and much-heralded LACMA exhibit "Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings From the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer." Anyone who stood before the astonishing "Adele I" numerous times, captivated by the beauty, sensuality and bold lushness and stylization of this landmark portrait in modern art, would surely be intrigued by a film about its artist.
"Klimt" is subtitled "A fantasy based on the life of Gustav Klimt," and it's nothing if not amorphous. It opens with a time-worn device of more conventional film biographies, with Klimt (John Malkovich, the film's key strength) on his deathbed at age 55 in 1918, flooded with memories, one in particular. It seems that, while attending the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, where he received a gold medal for his work, Klimt meets none other than pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès (Gunther Gillian), who shows him a short he has shot of the dancer Lea de Castro (Saffron Burrows).
This brief glimpse of Castro shows her as an exotic vamp in the Theda Bara mold (but much less voluptuous). Klimt is transfixed and is eventually summoned to paint her both dressed and nude -- while her lover, a kinky duke, observes all behind a one-way mirror. But is Lea really Lea or is Klimt encountering merely her double? Ruiz doesn't give much reason to care one way or another about this -- or about many other aspects of his film as well.