Don Millar’s documentary about Fernando Botero, one of the world’s most popular living artists (the most popular, if you believe the film), proves similar to the many artworks it displays. While Botero proves an enjoyable and accessible primer about the octogenarian Colombian-born artist whose paintings and sculptures have delighted millions, it lacks the depth and context to make it more than an easily digestible tribute seemingly designed to be shown on an endless loop at the Museo Botero in Bogotá, Colombia. The laudatory approach is not entirely surprising, considering that the director is a longtime friend of the family and Botero’s daughter is one of the film’s executive producers.
Even if you don’t know his name, you’re likely to be familiar with Botero’s distinctive style of figurative art known as “Boterismo.” His works, many inspired by the paintings of the Old Masters, often feature representations of subjects depicted in exaggerated, rotund fashion, their outsized proportions representing, as he likes to put it, “volume.” A typical example is his 1977 “Mona Lisa,” a riff on da Vinci’s masterpiece in which the plump subject, unlike the delicate figure in the original, seems not to have missed many meals. In the documentary, Botero claims that his single, recognizable style is one of the primary reasons for his success.
Informative and entertaining, but hardly objective.
The doc briefly recounts the major events in Botero’s rags-to-riches life, beginning with his impoverished upbringing in Medellín, where he was raised by his supportive mother following the death of his father when he was only 4. After finding some modest success in his native country, Botero spent time in both Mexico and New York City before eventually moving to Europe, living in such cities as Florence and Paris and studying the works of the artists who would become so influential to his career.
One of the film’s most dramatic episodes revolves around the death of Botero’s son Pedro, who died in an automobile accident at age 4. The artist, whose hand was severely mangled in the accident, channeled his grief into a series of powerful paintings depicting his young son. Several of those works, and many others, are lovingly spotlighted in the documentary, which certainly provides evidence of his impressive productivity.
Another powerful segment recounts the 1995 incident in which a terrorist group placed a bomb underneath a large Botero sculpture of a bird in a public plaza in Medellín, killing 23 people. Botero donated another sculpture, representing a dove, which now sits in the plaza next to the wreckage of the original.
Botero himself is a frequent presence throughout the doc, coming across as modest and somewhat enigmatic. Far more effusive are the gushing testimonials from family members who are clearly devoted to him, including three adult children and several grandchildren, and comments by various academics, art curators and dealers, one of whom describes Botero’s extremely popular artworks as “recession-proof.”
There is one dissenting voice, a Columbia University art professor who sniffs, “I think Botero’s work is terrible,” comparing it to “the Pillsbury Dough Boy.” But while her inclusion seemingly represents an attempt to provide some balance, she’s shown as such a frown-faced sourpuss that viewers may well discount her opinion even if they agree with her about the kitschy aspects of his work.
In recent years, Botero’s work has taken on a more political slant with paintings inspired by the torture perpetrated on prisoners in Abu Ghraib and the rampant violence in Colombia as a result of drug cartels. He’s also donated many artworks from his personal collection, both by him and such painters as Picasso, Monet and Chagall, among many others, to museums.
In many aspects, Botero deserves the accolades heaped upon him in this film. It’s unfortunate, then, that its relentlessly hagiographic tone has the ironic effect of making one resistant to its arguments.
Production company: Hogan Millar Media
Distributor: Corinth Films (Available on VOD)
Director-production designer: Don Millar
Screenwriters: Don Millar, Hart Snider
Producers: Joe Tucker, Eric Hogan, Don Millar
Executive producers: Lina Botero Zea, Kerri Borsuk, Jan Rokefamp, Betsy Shahl, J. Joly
Directors of photography: Johan Legraie, Joe Tucker
Editor: Hart Snider
Composer: David Bertok