Movie review: ‘Eva Hesse,’ a well-made portrait of a remarkable artist
“Eva Hesse” is a remarkable film about an even more remarkable artist, a woman who playfully and resolutely turned the world of sculpture inside out.
That she managed to produce so much work before dying of a brain tumor at age 34, in 1970, shows how driven and inspired Hesse was, especially since she didn’t really get going until the mid-’60s. This woman had the urge of art at her core.
Luckily for the filmmakers, Hesse kept journals, letters, datebooks and such that give word to her frustrations, passions and progress. Southfield native Selma Blair does a beautiful job of voicing Hesse’s writing. And first-time writer-director Marcie Begleiter wisely lets Hesse’s life story — the times before she was an artist — weave in and out of the larger story of her art.
So we begin with a teen Hesse in New York City as an aspiring and gifted painter. We follow her through art schools, a stint at a woman’s magazine, and to college. Her doting dad wishes she would pursue something more practical, but Eva is set on being an artist. She marries a tempestuous Irish sculptor, Tom Doyle, becomes a fixture, if not a flame, on the New York art scene and follows Doyle to Germany.
This is where the back story begins to seep in. The Jewish Hesse, you see, was born in Germany in 1936.
While in Germany, Eva moves from painting to ... well, whatever it is she ends up doing. Technically it’s probably sculpture, but it breaks with the tradition in so many ways that it seems a form of its own. Hesse eventually incorporates, fiberglass, wire, bed sheets, plastic tubing, metal rods, you name it, into her works. As anyone who has seen her pieces can attest, they are breathtaking, beautiful and ridiculous at the same time.
The filmmakers are lucky in two more areas: Plenty of photographs were taken of Hesse — she was quite beautiful — and plenty of people are still around who knew her, and they offer commentary along with assorted art experts. The result is a fine portrait of an extraordinary artist that may not be as daring as the artist herself, but it more than captures her drive and passion.
Native Detroiter Nancy Schreiber, the director of photography for “Eva Hess,” will introduce the film Saturday and Sunday afternoon and take questions afterward.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
Running time: 105 minutes
At The Detroit Film Theatre