Cinema: Ricardo Cavallo and Barbet Schroeder's Painting Lesson

On the screens this Wednesday, November 15 in France, the documentary "Ricardo and painting" by Barbet Schroeder is the story of friendship, that of the director for his subject, and of a passion, that of Ricardo Cavallo, painter of Argentine origin, for his art.

"Ricardo and Painting, Forty Years of Friendship" a film by Barbet Schroeder that will be released on November 15, 2023. It is the story of a friendship, a story of passing on a passion for painting, for nature. © The Films of the Losange

By: Isabelle Le Gonidec


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At the end of the film, dressed in a fishing suit, Barbet Schroeder walks away, full of regret. "It would be nice to continue in this happiness like this every day..." The director, who was awarded a Silver Leopard at Locarno in August 2023 for his work and author of a rich and diverse body of work, emerges from the cave where, tirelessly, Ricardo Cavallo (born in Argentina in 1954) tirelessly captures the infinite nuances of light that plays on the large pebbles rounded and polished by the tides. Emerald green, fawn, purple, red, made shiny like gems by water, a variety of gabbro, a magmatic rock that some consider to have magical properties. Ricardo Cavallo is an extraordinary colourist who paints on small squares of about thirty by thirty centimetres, which he makes himself by gluing a canvas on the wood – so many sacrificed sheets – with rabbit skin glue, in the manner of the Fayum portraits in Egypt.

Heavily laden with these small squares of wood, his easel and his brushes, Ricardo Cavallo walks the cliffs in the middle of the ferns, climbing the rocks, always attentive to the time of the tides that he writes on the fingers of his hand, so as not to be trapped in the cave. When I saw this place, I said to myself: 'this is my country,'" says the painter, who fled Paris, where he was studying at the Beaux-Arts, while working as a cleaner in offices in the morning. "I was almost becoming a social worker," explains Ricardo Cavallo, who, by dint of setting up his easel in the same place in the Bois de Boulogne, was surrounded by people who came to paint alongside him and tell him about their lives... He wanted to go into nature, "but in complete solitude."

Ricardo Cavallo, a setter

At home, in the joyful mess of his house in Finistère where artichokes rub shoulders with small squares of glued wood that are drying, in his small Parisian maid's room on the 7th floor without elevator or bed (he slept on the floor), Ricardo Cavallo tells how his whole life is organized around and for painting. Sleep, in all seasons, with the window open to always be ready to paint whatever the conditions, in perfect symbiosis with the natural environment, in tune with the daylight. Eat rice at every meal because it's simple to cook. Meals – rice, apples, oranges – that the film's crew, including Barbet Schroeder, often in the camera's field, share with the painter and sometimes his students. The documentary is built on the exchanges between each other. The painter who narrates and explains, the director who questions, is astonished, comments.

Because Ricardo Cavallo is a fantastic passer and that's the backbone of the film. We see him with the children of the small (free) painting school Blei Mor that he created in the village and to which he donated all his art books. "Painting, drawing, it's a weapon to move forward in life," insists Cavallo. And the concentration on the children's faces is similar to that of the painter himself, and underlined by the camera, which moves from one face to another. We can also see him in his exchanges with Barbet Schroeder, arm in arm, pacing the aisles of the Louvre, contemplating paintings. "Wait, we'll think about it together," he tells the director. It is with great emotion that he recounts and explains his passion for Caravaggio, Velázquez, his idols, but also the terrifying totem of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue from Mexico, those Greek sculptors who invented the smile, Raphael, Goya, Cézanne and so many others.

In the kitchen of Ricardo Cavallo's house, with Barbet Schroeder and the film crew at work, including Victoria Clay. Technicians and director are often in the spotlight in this film, which is certainly one of the director's most personal. © The Films of the Losange


Making a film about painting is quite a challenge," says Barbet Schroeder. What matters is more the final painting than what I'm telling, Ricardo Cavallo retorts, it's all in the painting. A canvas composed in the manner of a film since these small squares – carefully numbered and arranged – are so many shots that he can redo until he is satisfied, and that he only has an overall vision of the work once it has literally been assembled, that is to say assembled square by square, shot by shot. In the film, the viewer will experience the same revelation as the artist who sees his work recomposed. "It's very bad...", the sentence was handed down. Some of the shots of the painting will have to be redone. Monumental works, such as this 10-metre-long coastal landscape, a panoramic view that can be climbed in eight different ways, "like a snake biting its own tail", laughs Ricardo Cavallo.

The film is dedicated to the Parisian gallery owner Karl Flinker, who discovered Cavallo at a very young age and through whom Barbet Schroeder met the painter. From the cave of Saint-Jean-du-Doigt, the image glides over the fantastic frescoes of the Chauvet cave, and its figures of animals painted 36,000 years ago. It's a way of inscribing Ricardo Cavallo in the same vital need to create and a great gift to seal forty years of friendship.

► To read / see also on KUB: Ricardo Cavallo or the dream of the sparrowhawk

In 2013, Barbet Schroeder filmed an exhibition of Ricardo Cavallo at the Domaine de Kerguehennec, in a long sequence shot: (also on the KUB page):

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