Most people have probably never heard of Alberto Giacometti, and before seeing Sam Chen’s “Eternal Gaze,” I was one of them. Giacometti was a Swiss artist whose paintings and sculpture explored themes of construction, deconstruction, and decomposition. Filmmaker Chen was inspired by a college reading assignment to put together this moving tribute to Giacometti (who died in 1966), which effectively captures the artist’s torment and passion, in spite of the fact that it’s entirely computer animated. The film’s title refers to a comment the artist himself made, “The difference between the living and the dead is the gaze.”
I’m not sure why all artists have to be described as “tortured.” No doubt many of them are, but the question recalls the old argument about whether or not you really have to be borderline insane, or at least deeply neurotic, in order to be legitimately described as an artist. Giacomettit, as Chen has depicted him here, certainly fits the bill. He works in a leaky studio that should probably be condemned, chain-smoking all the while, and is plagued by visions and nightmares. Chen shows the artist spending his final years attempting to give life to his surrealist sculptures subjects by recreating the aforementioned gaze in their eyes.
Chen has reproduced his subject’s work admirably, though he might have elicited more sympathy for Giacometti if he had made him look a little less like a Spitting Image puppet. Even so, the film is richly textured and painstakingly detailed, making for an interesting viewing experience.