Even before Picasso's death in 1973, some of those who knew him, including at least two of the women who shared his life, had published their personal accounts of what it was like to be intimate with the greatest artistic genius of the twentieth century. The most striking of these was Francoise Gilot's Life with Picasso,
which appeared in 1964 despite Picasso's strenuous efforts to block its publication on the grounds that it was an intolerable intrusion on his privacy. Gilot depicts Picasso as a man with an imperial ego who often made the women in his life his victims or martyrs. "Pablo's many stories and reminiscences about Olga and Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar," she writes, "as well as their continuous presence just offstage in our own life together, gradually made me realize that he had a kind of Bluebeard complex that made him want to cut off the heads of all the women he had collected in his little private museum." The comparison to Bluebeard may go too far, but there is no denying the high casualty rate among the women whom stood too near Picasso. His first wife, Olga Koklova, went insane; Marie-Thérèse Walter hanged herself; Dora Maar sank into temporary madness; and Jacqueline Roque, Picasso's wife in the final part of his life, shot herself. Gilot, after a ten-year relationship (from 1943 to 1953) and two children by him, was the only woman with enough strength of will to leave Picasso.
Thus the title of the film, and its plot-line: world-famous artist (in his sixties) meets independent young artist (in her twenties), and charms her into becoming his partner, muse, and mother of his children. When his feelings for her cool, and he turns mean, she walks out, not wanting to become a dreary victim, like her predecessors.
Just as Picasso went to court (unsuccessfully) to stop Gilot's book, so his heirs tried to stop the making of this film. They, too, failed, but the viewer should not expect to see any of Picasso's masterpieces: in a gesture more and more common these days as filmmakers announce their plans to make films about modern artists, Picasso's estate banned any reproduction of his art in Surviving Picasso.