An artist's daughter tells the story of her life in a complex documentary

While this very particular story is about the daughter of an artist, it will resonate with anyone who has had a fraught relationship with their parents.

SCENES FROM ‘The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas.’  (photo credit: YES DOCU/YANIV LINTON)
SCENES FROM ‘The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas.’
(photo credit: YES DOCU/YANIV LINTON)

The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas, currently playing in the Lev Cinemas chain around Israel – and which will be shown on Yes Docu on September 21 at 9 p.m., as well as on StingTV and Yes VOD – is a sad, complex documentary that proves the truism that being the child of a famous, celebrated parent is never simple.

Written by Margarita Linton and directed by Linton and her husband, Yaniv, the movie is a deceptively simple account of Linton’s attempts to see her father, an acclaimed painter from the former Soviet Union known for his self portraits, who moved to Israel decades ago. He had two children with Linton’s mother, then left her and embraced religion, starting a new family in Jerusalem. 

While he has some contact with Linton’s brother, the artist has not seen his daughter in years. When a new show of his opens at a museum, she is drawn to the exhibit and decides to make a movie about her father, using this project as a way both to examine her feelings about the man who has cut her out of his life, as well as to try to nudge him to notice her and bring her back in.

The camera follows her as she visits his exhibition, tries to see him at his studio, talks to her mother – who is oddly forgiving of her ex-husband’s selfishness – and makes phone call after phone call to a man who really can’t be bothered to worry about anyone else’s needs. Eventually, she befriends an artist who is an acolyte of her father’s and tries to understand her father through him.

At one point, she becomes so frustrated with her father’s evasiveness and apathy toward her that she begins to interview Russian actors to portray him, having them act out scenes of dialogue she has recorded from their brief phone calls.

 SCENES FROM ‘The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas.’  (credit: YES DOCU/YANIV LINTON) SCENES FROM ‘The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas.’ (credit: YES DOCU/YANIV LINTON)

Toward the end of the movie, there is a certain twist that will make you reevaluate what you thought you understood about the documentary so far.

Visceral emotions

WHILE YOU may question the details presented in the film, Linton’s emotions are raw and true throughout. Clearly, she has made this movie partly out of an impulse to show how cruelly her father has treated her, in a kind of plea not to excuse his bad behavior because of his talent. One of his mottos was that the artist is like a lone tree, while wives and children are leaves, meaning there can be many of them – and perhaps that it’s okay if they fall away.

The movie brought to mind the 1998 film, Hideous Kinky, starring Kate Winslet, which is based on Esther Freud’s novel of the same name and inspired by her life with her mother, one of the painter Lucian Freud’s many mistresses. The Martin Scorsese segment of the film New York Stories, called “Life Lessons,” dealt with an egotistical and very successful painter and his relationship with a young woman who works for him, in a story that is reminiscent of the one that Linton is telling. 

The message that artists somehow are entitled to use and manipulate the people around them as they see fit has become something of a cliché, but is still accepted by many. 

In a sad scene, Linton asks the curator of the exhibit why there are no portraits of her on display – there is one of her brother and several of her father’s young children from his current marriage. He replies that it is nothing personal, but “the walls needed to breathe.” But nothing could be more personal to her. In looking only at aesthetic considerations, the curator has erased all evidence of her from the show.

While this very particular story is about the daughter of an artist – the title is meant to sound like the title of one of his paintings – it will resonate with anyone who has had a fraught relationship with their parents. Linton tells her story gracefully and the movie is beautifully filmed. Although her father apparently did not care about passing on his legacy to his daughter, she seems to have inherited his gift for visual storytelling.