When art history enters cinema. 15 must-see films

Art history has often entered the cinema, even with great masterpieces. Here are 15 must-see films: have you seen them? And which ones would you add to the list?

Cinema has always taken inspiration from art, telling engaging stories about paintings, sculptures, the great artists of history or simply or simply set in the most famous museums. Today we want to talk about 15 films that in some way have to do with art and its exponents, whether they are the absolute protagonists or mere guests.

1. Moulin Rouge (1952)
Before Baz Luhrmann’s famous film starring Nicole Kidman (whose title is spelled with an exclamation point), there was another film named after the famous Parisian nightclub. It was John Huston’s film about the life of French painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a life made difficult by the bone disease he carried since childhood, his bad temper, and the loneliness that followed. Only his passion for art gave him the strength to keep going. Huston received the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his work. Other awards include the Oscar for best set design and costumes and the Golden Globe to Colette Marchard for best debut.

Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge

2. Lust for Life (1956)
Vincente Minelli directs the biography of Vincent van Gogh based on the novel of the same name by Irving Stone.Starring Kirk Douglas, the film traverses multiple stages in the painter’s life, from his stay in Belgium, to his sojourn in Paris, to his move to Auvers-sur-Oise where he would commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Golden Globe to Douglas and Oscar to Anthony Quinn for his role as Paul Gauguin.

Brama di vivere
Longing to Live

3. Bande à part (1964)
Washed-up Arthur and Franz, who spend their time wandering the streets of Paris, plan a robbery of the mansion belonging to Odille’s aunt, a friend of theirs. A memorable scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece is that of the race through the halls of the Louvre carried out by the three protagonists in an attempt to break the record for an American tourist’s visit to the museum, which amounts to 9 minutes and 45 seconds.

Bande à part
Bande à part

4. Basquiat (1996)
Julian Schnabel directs the biography of Jean Michel Basquiat, a Haitian-born graffiti artist on his father’s side who was born and raised in New York City. Jeffrey Wright leads a stellar cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Benicio del Toro, Gary Oldman, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walker, Courtney Love and even singer David Bowie as Andy Warhol, pop art genius as well as Basquiat’s friend and mentor. Also of note is a cameo by Vincent Gallo, an actor, director and musician who was actually Basquiat’s friend.


5. Mr. Bean - The Last Catastrophe (1997).
The first cinematic foray of the character conceived and played by Rowan Atkinson, the film sees Mr. Bean as an employee of London’s National Gallery. Despite being inept and irresponsible, he is sent to Los Angeles as an art expert to travel to the Grierson Gallery where he is to supervise and present The Mother, the famous portrait by James Abbott McNeill Whistler purchased by the California institution. As might be expected, Mr. Bean gets up to all sorts of mischief on the trip as well, wreaking havoc in the life of his host, an assistant at the American gallery, and even ruining the painting beyond repair. The funny Englishman will still manage to solve everything in his own way. Guaranteed laughs.

Mr. Bean - L'ultima catastrofe
Mr. Bean - The Last Catastrophe

6. Pollock (2000)
From the volume Pollock: an American Saga by Steven Neifeh and Gregory White Smith, Ed Herris makes his first film as a director, of which he is also the producer and principal actor. The film is a biography of artist Jackson Pollock, from the beginnings of his painting career to his death in a car accident. Marcia Gay Harden plays Lee Krasner, painter as well as Pollock’s wife, in the role that won her an Oscar.


7. Mona Lisa Smile (2003).
Inspired by a true story. United States, 1953. At the height of the Cold War, Katherine Watson, played by Julia Roberts, is hired by the prestigious girls’ school at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, as an art history teacher. An anti-conformist and reformist, she teaches her students a different view of art, going so far as to explain to them a new way of deciphering the mystery of the Mona Lisa smile, hence the title of the film.

Mona Lisa Smile
Mona LisaSmile

8. The Dreamers (2003).
Bernardo Bertolucci cites Bande à part (but also other films) with this film set in Paris in 1968, the year of the student movement known as the French May. When Matthew, an American student away in the capital of France, meets the twins Isabelle and Théo, he discovers that he shares a passion for cinema with them, so much so that, among other things, they decide to try to break the record mentioned by Godard’s film, even succeeding in the feat. The film is also famous for the scene in which the beautiful Eva Green (Isabelle) dresses up to resemble the Venus de Milo.

The Dreamers
The Dreamers

9. The Da Vinci Code (2005)
Ron Howard directs the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel of the same name starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor and expert in symbology. When a curator at the Louvre Museum is murdered, Langdon, in Paris to give a lecture on his subject of study, finds himself involved in the investigation by the local police because the victim has been found in a position reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’sVitruvian Man. Thus begins an adventure in search of the Holy Grail that will involve, in addition to Langdon himself, a Paris police cryptologist and an old friend of the professor’s who has long been obsessed with finding the ancient chalice. Getting to the Grail requires finding the messages hidden in Leonardo’s paintings such as the Mona Lisa, the Virgin of the Rocks and Jesus’ Last Supper.

Il Codice da Vinci
The Da Vinci Code

10. The Best Offer (2013)
Giuseppe Tornatore’s film is the unique love story between a crusty old auctioneer and an agoraphobic girl who asks him to appraise the artworks stored in her late parents’ villa. Tension and obsession hover in this film magnificently played by Geoffrey Rush, here a shy man who, before meeting the female protagonist, led a love life solely with the women portrayed in the paintings he jealously guards in a vaulted room inside his mansion.

La migliore offerta
Best offer

11. Monuments Men (2014)
This is another film focusing on art during World War II, this time based on the novel by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Bitter, which in turn is based on a true story. The film directed and starring George Clooney is the story of a group consisting of two historians and an art expert, an architect, a sculptor, a merchant, a British pilot and a German Jewish soldier charged with recovering artworks from Adolf Hilter’s valuable collection. Also in the cast are Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin.

Monuments Men
Monuments Men

12. Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014).
This fun animated film is based on The Unlikely Story of Peabody, a segment from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show cartoon. The ingenious inventor dog Mr. Peabody and his adopted human son Sherman travel through different historical eras with their time machine, the “Turnback,” including the Renaissance. Our folks arrive in time (pardon the pun) to help Leonardo da Vinci finish the Mona Lisa: apparently the wayward Mona Lisa is in no mood to smile.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Mr. Peabody & Sherman

13. Francophonie (2015)
Set during World War II, the Aleksandr Sokurov-directed film recounts the Nazi occupation of the Louvre Museum and how Jacques Jaujard, the museum’s director at the time, and Count Franz Wolff-Metternich, head of the German commission for the protection of works of art in France, played a key role in saving the institution and its artifacts. “Who would want a France without the Louvre or a Russia without the Hermitage? Who would we be without museums?” are the questions the director asks himself as narrator.


14. Coco (2017)
During the Día de los Muertos festivities, Miguel, a music-loving Mexican boy, purloins the grave of his favorite singer and finds himself catapulted into the Land of Souls. In addition to the souls of his ancestors and his idol, Miguel also encounters that of Frida Kahlo, intent on organizing an act for a show, obviously in her style. The painter is joined by an alebrije, or spirit guide, who looks like a monkey, the same animal that keeps her company in her self-portrait.


15. The Square (2017)
Directed by Ruben Östlund and awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Set after the fictional abolition of the monarchy in Sweden, the film shows how the Royal Palace in Stockholm is converted into a contemporary art museum. We then witness the work of a curator, Christian, who must manage a space dedicated to The Square, a square within which everyone has equal rights and duties, a “sanctuary of trust and altruism,” as it is repeatedly called.

The Square
The Square

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