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In 1910 Paris, Polish former governess Sophie Brzeska meets boisterous, young, French artist Henri Gaudier at a library. Discovering that Sophie is an aspiring writer, working on a novel entitled Truth: A Novel of the Spirit , Henri enthusiastically lectures her on his beliefs that art must not simply represent life, but actively encourage it in others. When a crowd gathers to listen to Henri's effusive rant, he declares that art has the ability to be revolutionary. After gendarmes break up the crowd, Henri tells Sophie they should marry or live together to combine forces to make great art. Somewhat skeptical, Sophie agrees to allow Henri to walk her home, but cautions him that she has never liked men and loathes sex. Undaunted, Henri predicts a great future for them, yet at the door to Sophie's flat, Henri blithely comments on her being much older than he and, offended, she slams the door in his face. A few days go by during which Sophie expects to find Henri at the library, but when he fails to appear, she searches for him at his place of employment. To her surprise, Sophie realizes Henri and several other young artists are illegally forging great works. Henri, who is pleased to see Sophie, assures her that forging is a good way to practice and earn money, and declares that one day his works will be forged. Sophie then invites Henri to her flat to eat a sparse meal and confides the difficulties she endured growing up when her mother refused to support her artistic aspirations. Asserting that she is dedicated to the life of a writer despite the extreme poverty and hardship, Sophie wearily admits that when she was Henri's age, she, too, had prospects and hopes. Encouraging him to be great, Sophie is pleased when Henri, touched by her confessions, sketches her. The next day Henri laughingly tells Sophie he will take her to see his "mother," meaning the Louvre art gallery. Once inside the grand museum, however, the couple's animated response to various works and Henri's refusal to tuck in his shirt agitates the attendants who finally succeed in throwing the pair out. Furious, Henri declares he will abandon his "mother" and never set foot in the museum again. To Sophie's dismay, Henri then invites her to genuinely meet his parents who are tenants on a country estate. Conventional and stiff, the Gaudiers are displeased with Sophie's plain appearance and age, but she and Henri have a wonderful day away from the crowds and noise of the city. When Henri suggests that they "plight their troth," Sophie proposes that to indicate their respect and affection for each other they should exchange last names, declare themselves brother and sister and that each is the other's only true love. Later, Henri listens sympathetically as Sophie describes the frustrations of being a governess to a family in which the wife became suspicious and the husband too demanding, and admits she came to Paris to commit suicide, but was overcome by fear. Just then, the couple is interrupted by the arrival of the village mayor, several village elders and the Gaudiers. The mayor reads an anonymous letter stating that Sophie is using the estate dairy building as a place to rendezvous with men and asks her to depart. Angry and ignoring his parents' plea to let Sophie depart alone, Henri leaves with Sophie and they head to London. There, Henri takes up construction work while Sophie tries begging. They set up a shabby dwelling under a street by the train tracks although Sophie is agitated by the constant noise. Upon receiving a job offer as a clerk for fifty-five shillings a month, Henri responds effusively and, embracing Sophie, tries to kiss her, but she breaks away from him and suggests he go elsewhere to satisfy his physical urges. When Henri points out that he has no money, Sophie gives him five shillings and firmly tells him to find a prostitute. Although disappointed, Henri agrees and returns home with sketches of a nude woman but insists he will always love Sophie. At work, Henri's boss, Mr. Saltzman, introduces him to corpulent art dealer Angus Corky, whom Henri playfully calls "Porky," and whom he invites to dinner to look at his work. At dinner that evening, Porky expresses his appreciation of Henri's work and offers to buy a single sketch for five pounds, which sends Henri into delirium. When Porky admits he will have to get the money the next day, however, Sophie suspects him of cheating Henri. Over the next few weeks, Henri continues making sketches of life all over London and accepts a dinner invitation from Porky to meet several of his bohemian friends including renowned art dealer Lionel Shaw. Porky's friends are somewhat taken aback by Henri and Sophie's eccentric behavior and when Henri boasts that he prefers working with marble, Shaw asks to see his latest work. Even though he has not yet begun the piece, Henri describes the work as a woman's torso and arranges to show it to Shaw the next morning at 9 a.m. After the party, Henri, Sophie and Porky ransack a nearby cemetery to find an appropriate piece of marble that they steal and cart back to the couple's dwelling. There, Henri spends all night working on the stone and has a completed figure well before the appointed time. When he receives a telegram from Shaw regretfully stating he had a prior engagement at his gallery, a furious Henri transports the torso to the gallery where he hurls it through the window. Henri is briefly arrested, and although he is released when Shaw drops charges and Porky pays for the damage, he loses his job. Unable to endure the constant emotional upheaval of living with Henri, Sophie confides in Porky that she has taken a governess job on the coast to get away for a spell. Although Henri is saddened by Sophie's departure, as soon as she leaves, he goes in search of women and soon meets Gosh Boyle, a shapely and enthusiastic suffragette with whom he starts a lively affair. Some weeks later, Henri visits Sophie to reveal that Porky has arranged an exhibition for him provided Henri can create enough new works. Utterly delighted for him, Sophie nevertheless again refuses to have sex with Henri, but vaguely agrees to consider marrying him when he becomes famous after the exhibition. Back in London, Henri takes a commission from Gosh's military officer father in addition to working feverishly on his show. When Sophie unexpectedly returns and finds Henri with Gosh, she is furious and drives Gosh away. Undaunted, Henri is dismayed when Sophie insists on finding her own lodgings and demands she keep her promise to marry him after the exhibition. Europe falls into chaos with the beginning of war, but Henri ignores the conflict to work on his art. When Gosh, who has become an army nurse, visits Henri before heading to France, she accuses him of cowardice, but he insists that art is necessary to society in time of war. Nevertheless, several weeks later, when Henri reads of the fall of Rheims and the threat to Paris, he abruptly enlists. Refusing to believe that he has joined the army, Sophie does not see Henri when he calls upon her the night before his departure and is shocked the next day to learn he has returned to France. In his absence, Sophie and Henri correspond and she vows to marry him on his return. Just before the exhibition, however, Henri is killed at the front, and the bereft Sophie and Porky are left to manage the exhibit alone.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||R||Premiere Info:||Venice Film Festival screening: 31 Aug 1972; Los Angeles opening: 18 Oct 1972|
|Release Date:||1972||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (Metrocolor)||Distributions Co:||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.|
|Sound:||Production Co:||Russ-Arts Limited|
|Duration(mins):||99-100||Country:||Great Britain and United States|
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One of Ken Russell's best films. A display of Gaudier's sculptures is featured at the end of the film.