The Troubled Life of Jean Marc Calvet

This week there’s been lots of talk about documentary film: specifically, the release of Carol Morley’s documentary ‘Dreams of a Life’, which has got the critics swooning left right and centre. I will attempt to see it next week (and I highly recommend anyone and everyone else does too) and may well write a post about it, though I’ll be very much behind on the times!

In the meantime, I thought I would write about an equally worthy film which hasn’t received as much frantic attention from the media and is available to watch for free in the comfort of your own home, courtesy of 4OD.

Calvet is a 90-minute documentary by director Dominic Allan, a film that looks deep into the life of the artist Jean Marc Calvet, following him on a profound journey as he tries to redress the mistakes of his troubled past.

The story begins in Nicaragua, where Calvet lives with his wife and her daughter. He is a renowned artist, his work fetching up to $20,000 a piece. Yet, 7 years ago, if someone had told him that one-day he would be a great artist, Calvet would have laughed in their face.

© Jean Marc Calvet 2010

It is a complex series of events that led Calvet to his current occupation. As a teenager he grew up feeling angry and abandoned on the streets of Nice after the divorce of his parents. It was during this time that he became self-destructive, taking drugs and participating in dangerous activities such as prostitution. He managed to escape this life when he joined the Foreign Legion, and after that moved from the Police to working for a private security company.

He was next offered a job in the US with a wealthy, secretive American. He was presented with a large salary but was told that if he accepted the role, he would have to leave his life in France behind him forever.

Here Calvet made the biggest mistake of his life. He took the job offer and, without a thought, left behind him his six-year-old son Kevin, much to the despair of Kevin’s mother, Nathalie.

When Calvet reached Miami, he realised that his new boss was not a wealthy businessman but a central figure in American organised crime. Calvet says he was treated like a slave and he soon became fed up with his new job. He hatched a plan to steal a large sum of money from his boss and, after successfully doing so, fled to South America to avoid retribution.

Finding his way to Costa Rica, Calvet reached the peak of his life-long quest for self-destruction. He fell into drug and alcohol abuse, paranoid and guilty about the people he had betrayed. Having reached his lowest ebb, Calvet decided to end his life. He locked himself in his villa he bought with stolen money and fed himself with huge quantities of drugs. He then descended into a drug-fuelled madness, creating his own personal hell, full of frightening hallucinations.

Calvet soon began destroying his house and, in the process of ripping up his staircase, he found some cans of paint and from here he began to use painting as an outlet for his raw emotions.

© Jean Marc Calvet 2010

In one particularly intense scene, Calvet relives the moment where he discovered the paint, he tells of how he smashed himself against the walls of the house, knocking his front teeth out and tearing up the furniture.  He set about viciously attacking the walls with colour, using anything he could get his hands on to turn into paint and use on the walls. He remembers that when he stood back and looked at what he had done, ‘I saw all my hate had come out and it was on the wall’.

Painting provided Calvet with a crucial form of emotional release. He never saw his work as art, it was a method of ‘survival’, a way to deal with his guilty conscious, a way to rehabilitate after all of his transgressions.

After putting his life back on track, Calvet sets about trying to deal with his life and the choices he made. At the forefront of his mind was his son, Kevin.

At this point, the narrative of the film changes, shifting from reliving Calvet’s past to following his movements in his present as he attempts to find and reconnect with Kevin.

This story is told with vivid intensity; Calvet’s brutal honesty in his recollections makes for an extremely engaging and emotional documentary. He is an incredibly sympathetic character, self-effacing and quite often self-loathing. However, by the end we can see that Calvet, the man who lived a dark and troubled life, has been given a second chance to change his life for the better.

I highly recommend that people give this a go, have a look at the trailer below and give it a watch on 4OD.

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