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Peggy Guggenheim, in Lisa Immordino Vreeland's documentary, 'Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.'

Berkshire International Film Festival: Day 3  

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By Monday, Jun 1, 2015 Arts & Entertainment

Great Barrington — For those of you who missed Traces of Sandalwood on Saturday, I hope that it will be returning to the Triplex or the Beacon this summer. It was just a thoroughly enjoyable Spanish/Indian film with awesome views of India and one of my favorite cities, Barcelona. Just being able to see the Ramblas and Gaudi’s masterpiece, Parc Guell, with seaside shots of Mumbai was spectacular. Basically, this was a fairy tale (really a soap opera) of despair, hope and sisterly love. Traces of Sandalwood was an almost entirely female production — the book, the producers, the director (Maria Ripoll), the crew; one of the producers also co-wrote the book and wrote the screenplay (Anna Soler-Pont).

Aina Clotet in 'Traces of Sandalwood.'

Aina Clotet in ‘Traces of Sandalwood.’

The film began with a woman dying in childbirth in Mumbai, India. Her 6-year-old daughter, Mina, bravely rescues her newborn sister from drowning. This amazing child tries for several years to raise this baby, whom she names Sita., Under dire poverty conditions, they are sold to a convent (the baby) and a brothel (Mina). However, the older sister escapes and ends up a maid in a wealthy family. Eventually she marries the son of the family she works for and escapes the mean poverty of her childhood. Years pass and she becomes a famous Bollywood actress (the wonderful Nandita Das) but remains obsessed with finding her sister, Sita (Aina Clotet — who was nominated for a Gaudi Award this year). Through arduous detective work with her director/spouse (her real-life husband, Subodh Maskara) they track down her sister in Barcelona where she is leading a very different life from Mina. Sita appears very cold and joyless working as a scientist in a stem cell lab.

What happens when Sita discovers her true background is the heart of the movie and it is revelatory. The contrast of the two sisters lives makes this film so engrossing….will the Spanish sister learn to accept her Indian background? Will the Indian sister be able to potentially walk away from the sister she looked for all her life? It is no mystery why this film won the audience award at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

One of the most anticipated movies of the festival was Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. I was especially interested in seeing this movie as I had visited her Museum last year in Venice. It was an unexpected pleasure, housed in a gorgeous palazzo on the Grand Canal. I had always heard that she was an unusual woman who had collected art as well as lovers. But the director, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, fleshed out the reasons and difficult background of this troubled but extremely important art collector and patron. Mental illness appeared to overwhelm her family with suicides and insane acts which ruined her family’s stability for generations. Her father’s death on the Titanic when she was 13 was also particularly devastating. Even with all the eccentricity and trauma in her life, Peggy had a spirited, curious and brave nature. This led her to open galleries in Paris, New York, and London; finally settling in Venice. Her many lovers introduced her to the significant avant garde artists in Europe. The list reads like a who’s who of the 20th century in art and literature. (One little known fact was that she gave Lucian Freud his first exhibit — when he was a child — in a “children’s exhibit” in her gallery in London). Several of her friends and lovers stand out in helping her flesh out her taste in modern art — Marcel Duchamp was particularly important in this regard. Piet Mondrian encouraged her to become a huge supporter of Jackson Pollack. Countless other artists owe much of their prominence to her patronage (Motherwell, Rothko, Tanguy, Magritte, Brancusi, Ernst — just to name a few) and certainly she rescued much art during World War II from the Nazis. If you are interested at all in modern art and literature, you must see this film.

One last shout out: Doug Trumbull’s short video about BIFF’s tenth year anniversary which has been showing at the Mahaiwe is truly gorgeous. I hope everyone got to see it at least once.

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