Within the 2004 film Modigliani, a strong semiotic current is present. In one sense, this can be traced to the subject matter of the film, in so far as its subject matter is a fictionalized account of the life of the Italian painter Modigliani, such that images play a key role in the film. How signs can convey meaning, therefore, is at the centre of the film itself.

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At the very end of the film, arguably is one of the decisive uses of the signifier. After the death of her husband Modigliani, his pregnant wife Jeanne goes to visit Modigliani’s rival Pablo Picasso in a cafe. As she encounters Picasso, she gives her final discourse before a sign »Salon des Artistes: Grand Prix de Peinture«, (The Salon of Artists: The Grand Prize of Painting), which has been the center of the film’s narrative. Namely, Modigliani, on the verge of financial disaster, must enter this contest so as to support his family, his rival Picasso also joining this competition. The competition, in this sense, is at the center of the story, as Modigliani eventually wins it, but dies on the same evening. The signifier here is the sign of the painting, which precisely recapitulates the entire narrative: before this signifier, a distraught Jeanne tells Picasso how she feels. In one sense, however, the signifier is the competition: the viewer already knows what Jeanne will say, in so far as her speech is given in front of the sign. What is signified, therefore, in this sense, is Jeanne herself, the competition as the signifier, and a traumatized Jeanne, who will soon commit suicide, as the signified. In other words, the competition has brought her life to ruin.

From the perspective of Peirce’s theory, semiotics are also clearly present in the film. The painting with which Modigliani will win the competition, of a girl in a blue dress, is Jeanne, although in the more abstract style which Modigliani practiced. Accordingly, the painting is what Peirce would term iconic: it is the love he felt, a quality of Jeanne, that he communicates on the painting itself. Using another term from Peirce, the presence of bottles of wine throughout the film can be considered indexical. Namely, their presence shows the addiction of Modigliani, his self-destruction. The bottles are indexical because they imply a direct relation to Modigliani. An example of a symbol, however, is perhaps the blue dress which will come to represent Jeanne. This is because the dress could, in fact, have been any color, much like a symbol means that, for example, the word for »dog« could have been any word, as in different languages, such as in French, where it is »chien.« The arbitrariness of the blue dress, however, comes to stand to represent Jeanne because we know from the context of the story that this comes to signify Jean. In this sense, it is also connotative: when the viewer sees what Modigliani has painted, they do not see merely the painting itself, but also how Modigliani feels towards Jeanne. Another example of the connotative, but one that also implies the denotative, is when Modigliani tries to secure his marriage licence: the denotative is the literal sign, the stamp that authorizes the marriage certificate from the bureaucrat. But the connotative is instead the meaning that this carries for Modigliani, which is the possibilty to truly live with his beloved.

The entire film, moreover, is an instance of pragmatics in semiotics. This is present, for example, in the relation between Modigliani and his art. Modigliani essentially creates signs and meanings with his paintings: his pragmatic relationship to signs, as their creator, is precisely how he intends to survive and support his family in the film. The whole of the narrative, from this perspective, is precisely such an explanation of pragmatics, of relations of users of signs to signs, but also of how creators of signs relate to their creation.