Etienne Faure’s biographical documentary provides almost everything you ever wanted to know about the life and writings of French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891).
Rimbaud, for those who are unfamiliar with his work, was the 19th century French literary equivalent of a rock legend: a blazing youthful talent who burst on the scene with a fireball of creative energy, only to burn out too fast and die too young. His meteoric poetic output began with his first professionally published poem at 16, but by 20 he stopped writing poetry and would later declare of his work: “All of that was just pig swill.” His adulthood was spent in a seemingly endless global journeys, with strange trips and odd jobs across Europe and Asia, before concluding with work as a coffee merchant and gun runner in Ethiopia before his untimely death from cancer.
The film spends a great deal of time detailing Rimbaud’s scandalous affair with poet Paul Verlaine, which ended rather badly (Verlaine, in a jealous rage, shot Rimbaud in the wrist and was later jailed even though Rimbaud sought to drop the criminal charges). But Faure fails to mention Rimbaud’s post-poetry love life, where he kept company with local women in Asia and Africa.
Rimbaud’s writing is well represented through a diverse global line-up of admirers reading his verse aloud. Some choices are inspired, such as Parisian Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and playwright Christopher Hampton, but some choices are downright strange (a schoolboy in Warsaw, a male stripper in Montreal, a hotel manager in Ibiza).
All told, it is an unusual but interesting tribute to an unusual but interesting talent.