Young Picasso




A sterling documentary that could even please those who respond to Picasso’s art with alarm.


Young Picasso

The young Pablo


The documentarist Phil Grabsky has carved a niche for himself by concentrating for the most part on films about artists. I first encountered his work when I saw In Search of Mozart made back in 2006. It was followed by equally adroit studies of Beethoven, Haydn and Chopin, but more recently he has devoted himself to films about painters. These films tell us about their lives but emphasise their art first and foremost with copious illustrations. Grabsky’s pieces have often occupied specialised slots in cinemas in addition to being seen on television and on DVD and his latest Young Picasso comes to us as part of a series under the heading Exhibition on Screen.


This new film illustrates perfectly what I admire about Grabsky. The writing credit is his as well as that for directing and he is also one of a team of photographers utilised. Yet, despite the degree of involvement, he serves the material rather than imposing himself on it. Young Picasso looks at the early period in the artist’s life from his birth in Málaga in 1881 to the shocked reaction of many to his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907. Even greater shocks lay ahead, but most of the work of Picasso’s youth ranging from childhood paintings encouraged by his father to those of the so-called Blue Period (1901-1904) and Rose Period (1904 -1906) are very far from being juvenilia - and that’s so even if they are likely to appeal to many still affronted by Picasso’s later increasingly innovative and stylised paintings.


In Young Picasso, a number of curators comment on Picasso’s development, as does his grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso. Additionally we hear in voice-overs words written at the time, those of Picasso himself and also those of others responding to his art. Although he was only in Málaga for the first decade of his life, this film emphasises the impact that it and other places, Barcelona and Paris in particular, had on him. Eschewing reconstructions Grabsky lets modern-day shots indicate the atmosphere of these locations, but the past is captured vividly all the same through what we learn of the tragic end of Picasso’s friend Carlos Casagema and of the influence of his mistress Fernande Olivier. All of this comes across in an unforced way, the approach always being informative and well judged. Aptly it is geared to those who may have no detailed knowledge about painting but want to learn about Picasso’s early years. Grabsky’s signature is to be found in the manner adopted to achieve this and in the apt use of music (his film reflects Picasso’s statement that classical music as such meant little to him but that being a Spanish exile in Paris he loved the guitar music which evoked his roots). In his own sphere Grabsky gives us work that is consistently reliable and intelligent: it may lack surprises, but for me his dedication is more than enough compensation for that and everything he does helps to make the work of the artists studied more readily accessible to the general public.       




Featuring  Olivier Widmaier Picasso, Malén Gaul, Reyes Jiménez, José Lebrero, Eduard Vallès, Silvia Loreti, Anne Umland, Emilia Philippot, Rafael Inglada; and the voices of Tim Marlow, Harry Lloyd, Ben Elliot, Joe Gaminara, Niamh Shepheard and James Daniel Wilson. 


Dir Phil Grabsky, Pro Phil Grabsky, Screenplay Phil Grabsky, Ph Phil Grabsky, Jordi Azategui, David Bickerstaff and Edi Fiettkau, Ed Clive Mattock, Music Stephen Baysted and Susan Legg.


Seventh Art Productions-Independent.
91 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 5 February 2019. Cert. PG.