CUTIE AND THE BOXER
(directed by Zachary Heinzerling, 2013)
***+ (out of 5)
> Though this film is a documentary (one of this year’s Oscar contenders), more than anything this is an enduring love story.
“Cutie” (Noriko Shinohara) is clearly exasperated by her famous mate Ushio Shinohara. Finding it very hard to be a fellow artist laboring in his considerable shadow, she is also clearly in love with the exasperating man- a fact she repeats again and again in this warm portrait of the Japanese couple, and a recurring theme in her art itself. The “boxer” of the title, Ushio is known for his unique style of pugilistic art, donning boxing gloves daubed with paint and punching his art into the canvas. The results are often pretty striking. (Though I liked Cutie a lot, and appreciated her narrative art more than her husband’s wild expressionism.) By the end of the film, it’s kind of hard not to fall in love with both of these characters.
. I treasured scenes like the time she walks in on him painting a large colorful and chaotic work-in-progress. He announces: “I dunno. It’s difficult. Hard to say if it’s a good one or a bad one.” She smiles to see him working, squints, tilts her head this way and that like a dog regarding something it does not comprehend. Cutie’s off-the-cuff response: “I don’t think it’s good.” And the look on his face is priceless! There is some nice archival footage here of the couple in their youth- including a scene where worldly Ushio, who always had a relationship with the bottle, flies into a sudden alcoholic blubber over how difficult it is to live the life of an artist- what a terrible bitch Mother Art is. Indeed, it is distressing to see the constant, ongoing financial stress they live with- even as popular, respected artists and international personalities.
. At one point they are paid a visit by a woman who seems the stereotype of the aloof, unaware art snob, representing New York’s prestigious Guggenhiem Museum. They are considering buying a major work from Ushio- maybe commissioning an entire show. But this obvious poser turns her nose up at everything she sees, looking for something “more historical”. It is a major disappointment when the famous museum chooses another artist to showcase, and does not appear to be about to purchase anything.
. The closing credits are a delight, as the gently battling but deeply loving couple duke it out, punching each other playfully with paint-slathered gloves in a beautiful encapsulation of their life together, their love and the role art plays in their lives. Blissful.
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