Film Review: Botero

By Honor Scott April 11, 2019
Botero traces the artist’s path from the sales of his first paintings to worldwide acclaim. Photo: Oleg Covian

3.5/5 stars

Tracing the development of both the life and work of Colombia’s most renowned living artist, Botero might be a documentary, but its narrative is reminiscent of a fairy tale.

Botero: una mirada íntima a la vida y la obra del maestro is a ‘rags to riches’ tale of the boy who lost his father aged four; was thrown out of art school for his suspected politics; lived in poverty in Florence; and set off for New York with USD$200 in his pocket. Details of his penniless state are interspersed with images of the young Botero amongst piles of his works: the dedicated artist awaiting his moment.

When that moment comes, however, it does not come to someone who seeks fame for fame’s sake. Exhibition openings are mere cocktail parties. Botero’s ambition lies in the ‘History of Art’; not in its glamour.

This element of cliché is not to say that it is unsubstantiated. The first-hand knowledge of his family informs the film not just in front of the camera, but – in the case of his daughter Lina – also through their role behind it.

Related: Going back to the start: A young Botero returns home

Personal knowledge, however, does not perhaps lend itself to objective documentation. And this is presented as a documentary. Botero has never been without his critics; those who oppose what they deem the patronising simplicity of his work; those who question his artistic skill; those who object to the application of his humorous, satirical figures to serious topics.

Produced and directed by Canadian Don Millar, the documentary puts a strong emphasis on Botero’s global success. In the final third of the film, footage of the artist and his work in Beijing, New York, Madrid and Paris floods the screen in a triumphant celebration of his accomplishments.

But there is a discord in the film as in real life between the international figure of Botero – who actually lives in Europe – and the Colombian Botero. It seems that, for the director, his international fame is second to, for example, his donations of hundreds of works of art to Colombian cities.

The film seeks to capture that same sense of monumentality that comes through Botero’s art and sculptures. It also explores his art as a form of memory, such as the Pedrito collection which Botero painted following the tragic death of his son.

The messages are clear: that he is incomparable; that he adheres to no temporary fashions; and that he shall endure.

But when it comes to Botero, those almost go without saying. For me, what would have taken this film from ‘strong’ to ‘excellent’ would have been to make it a little less one-sided and give a little more screen space to his critics.

Botero: una mirada íntima a la vida y la obra del maestro will be shown in 45 Cine Colombia venues nationwide, between April 11 and 14, in English with Spanish subtitles.