The film opens with a renowned artist showing his paintings at a Frieze-like art fair. But when he observes some irreverent attendees taking selfies before his work, he becomes so incensed that he brazenly flees with his painting in tow. Fearing that his past work is insignificant, he becomes determined to create a sublime work of art only attainable – he believes - with a never-before-seen blue pigment. He entrances his young daughter with myths of this numinous color – the blue of heaven that not even Giotto could find – and conducts experiments in his studio, like a chemist or a sorcerer. But the failed experiments he dumps down the drain are leaking out of a crack in the pipe, and poisoning the nearby woods, which turn a brilliant blue. In the end, his beloved daughter stumbles upon this strange phenomenon in the woods and becomes so mesmerized by the unnatural, blue water that she is tempted to go for a fatal swim. Similar in tone to Don’t Look Now and Picnic at Hanging Rock, where there is a sense of inevitable doom about his pursuit, the film explores themes of vanity, obsession, beauty, and worship.
This film explores the commandment Thou shalt have no other gods before me, especially as illuminated in Isaiah 46. False idols could be anything that we put above everything else – money, family, political causes; I am interested in how this idea might be applied to the problem of the artist. Artistic creation can be a great spiritual achievement, but often the artist hardens his heart in pursuit of a great work. I’ve often heard of writers losing friends, whose lives they mined, for the sake of their books; the questionable means directors have gone through to get a good performance. Recently, a controversy resurfaced regarding how Bertolucci manipulated the actress Maria Schneider behind the scenes in Last Tango of Paris. The director claimed not to regret his treatment of Schneider because the film was a masterpiece. When the artist turns his back to the world and the needs of others for the sake of his work, is he valuing his work too highly, is he worshiping a false idol?