Difference between Portrait and Impressionism Biopics

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Biographical films or biopics are a film genre that is always trending in the mainstream scene. Apart from being a hype entertainment commodity, biopic films can also be a medium with informative historical content and provide audiences with an understanding and enlightenment of inspiring public figures.

Not a few films in this genre are intended as a tribute, celebrating the life of this character. More than just raising the private life of a public figure, a director must have a clear vision and mission when deciding to make a biopic film.

Are all biopics the same? So far, there are at least two perspectives used by filmmakers when developing biopic films. The two types of biopics that we will discuss this time are portrait biopics and impressionism biopics.

bohemian rhapsody
10 Best Biopic Film List
It’s like a filmmaker who wants to paint public figures in a film; portrait is an attempt to achieve accuracy with the source material, while impressionism is a film based on a filmmaker’s personal impression of the character who is the source of his inspiration.

Biopic Film with Material Portrait of a Public Figure’s Life Journey
First, the most standard type of biopic film script is one that explores the life journey of a public figure. It could start from a character’s childhood or at any point in their life; from when they were nothing, to finally becoming famous figures. Even to the next phase if the script writer also wants to expose the downfall of a character.

Directors can also be totally obsessed with the accuracy and likeness of every moment in their films, although there is bound to be some dramatization. The plots presented are usually also chronological. Really like seeing the life journey of the character we are watching in the film.

Gangubai Kathiawadi
Gangubai Kathiawadi

Examples of biopic films with plots of public figures’ life journeys include “Elvis” (2022), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), “King Richard” (2021), “Gangubai Kathiyawadi” (2022) and the ‘Habibie & Ainun Series’.

“Elvis” is an ambitious biopic film from Baz Luhrmann, in which he attempts to summarize the life of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley from childhood to his death in a 1 hour 39 minute film. Quite similar to the legendary musician biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody” which presents a chronology of Freddie Mercury’s career, how his career continued to climb, when his personal life got worse.

Both of these films received high praise thanks to the presentation of the main stars, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley. Where you can not only achieve thanks to acting skills, also give appreciation to makeup, wardrobe, and overall production design.

King Richard Reviews
King Richard (Warner Bros.)

In Indonesia alone, Reza Rahadian’s performance as the late B.J. Habibie is the most praised biopic appearance. Because even though this actor has no physical resemblance to Habibie, he can imitate gestures, facial expressions, and the same way of speaking as the former 3rd President of Indonesia.

The film ‘Habibie & Ainun Series’ also presents a sequential plot of Habibie’s relationship with his wife, Hasri Ainun Besari, as well as Habibie’s career as a whole.

Portrait Biopic Films Focusing on the Most Important Events
Second, it is still in the portrait approach, but focuses more on the most important events in the life of the character to be raised. Biopics like this also highly value accuracy because their mission is to enlighten and inspire the audience from the true story of a public figure.

The first example is “The Imitation Game” (2014) starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. This film, directed by Morten Tyldum, focuses on at least two important moments in Turing’s life. When he began working as a special team of German enigma code breakers during World War II, as well as exploring Turing’s sexual orientation in his teens.

That’s why the application of flashbacks throughout the plot is essential. In this way, we can understand Alan Turing as a genius inventor, and at the same time see his fragile side as an ordinary human being.

Difference between Portrait and Impressionism Biopics
The Imitation Game

Examples of such biopics that have truly made an impact on audiences are “The Queen” (2006), starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II as she faces her biggest public challenge; when Diana Spencer died in 1997.

In just one important moment, the audience is invited to understand that the queen of England at that time had bigger priorities than serving the public who were curious about her reaction, namely to focus more on her two grandchildren who were grieving.

Another biopic example with foThe same plot focus includes “Darkest Hour” (2017), “Hidden Figures” (2016), and “Soekarno” (2013). “Darkest Hour” is a Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman, focused on the events of Dunkirk in World War II and how Churchill made important decisions for his country.

Likewise, the film “Soekarno” starring Ario Bayu focuses on the events of preparation for the declaration of independence with the Proclamation on August 17, 1945. “Hidden Figures” tells the story of three hidden figures from NASA’s first rocket launch mission; Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.

Impressionism Biopics
A biopic with an impressionist approach can be a film with a presentation that will surprise the audience. It’s good when the film is of good quality, or it becomes a cinema disaster. Not all directors have an obsession with high-accuracy biopics, some have the courage to show their original impressions of public figures.

Two biopics by Pablo Larrain are the best examples of impressionism, “Jackie” (2016) and “Spencer” (2021). These two films share the tragic story of two of the most beloved iconic women in history, Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy and Diana Spencer, first wife of King Charles III.

But “Spencer” is the perfect example of an impressionist biopic. At this point, who doesn’t know Diana Spencer’s life journey. Too many films and series have exploited his life story in the same format.


“Spencer” isn’t even based on events that actually happened. Where Diana headed to Sandringham House in Norfolk to celebrate Christmas for three days with the rest of the British royal family, including her husband, Charles, and the Queen.


Rather than presenting the sequence of Diana’s life while she was Princess of Wales, “Spencer” wants to show her feelings of loneliness, isolation, alienation and restraint during Diana’s reign as royalty. For Larrain, the family Christmas vacation sequence is the perfect moment to explore those feelings.

Biopics in the impressionist style radiate freedom from the director’s point of view. It’s not always historically accurate, but you still have to have a clear vision so you don’t lose your way, because sometimes people’s impressions can be wrong too. For example, like “Blonde” (2022). Ana de Armas does indeed show perfect acting as Marilyn Monroe, but the plot is more dominated by the exploitation of scandals and Monroe as a sexual object in the eyes of men.

Gie Review

Other examples of biopics with an impressionist presentation are “Gie” (2005) starring Nicholas Saputra as Soe Hok Gie and “Steve Jobs” (2015) starring Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs.

Those were various perspectives and focuses that can be applied in biopic films. Both portrait and impressionism biopics can produce good films if they are adjusted according to the message they want to convey.

Now we can understand more too, right? Not all biopics are the same. Not just copying and pasting the life stories of public figures from historical records as film scripts, there must also be quality development efforts from the filmmaker.