Review: ‘The Artist and the Model’ delicately walks a fine line
The lovely and poignant drama “The Artist and the Model” stirringly presents art, life and death as one irrevocably tangled trio. That it’s set against the German-occupied France of World War II — and all the civilian wariness and reflectivity that went with it — deeply dimensionalizes the movie’s rich characters and complex themes.
At its heart, this talent-heavy film, directed by Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque,” “Chico & Rita”) from a script he wrote with veteran screenwriter and frequent Luis Buñuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière, involves the symbiotic relationship between an aging sculptor, Marc (Jean Rochefort), and Mercé (Aida Folch), a young Spanish activist who becomes Marc’s model after she escapes a prison camp in the South of France.
Marc, a renowned if isolated artist who counts Cézanne and Matisse among his friends, slowly rekindles his creative passion by working with the attractive, open-minded Mercé, who in turn gains wisdom and confidence under Marc’s intensely discerning eye.
Though Mercé spends much of the film in the altogether, her modeling moments with Marc never feel gratuitous or creepy as Trueba and Carrière delicately explore the fine line between artistic appreciation and sexual allure. Marc and Mercé share several beautifully crafted scenes — their mutual analysis of an inspiring Rembrandt drawing, Marc revealing his singular take on original sin — that skillfully, well, flesh out their dynamic beyond simply sculptor and subject.
With his aristocratic face and haunted gaze, venerable French star Rochefort (“Pardon Mon Affaire,” “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and so many others) turns in a masterful, finely measured performance as the weary Marc; Folch nicely holds her own against him. As Marc’s longtime wife — and onetime muse — famed 1960s movie sex symbol Claudia Cardinale (“81/2,” “Once Upon a Time in the West”) provides generous support and a warm dose of enduring glamour.
Daniel Vilar’s evocative black-and-white photography adds grace and authenticity to this unhurried, highly memorable tale.
“The Artist and the Model”
MPAA rating: R for sequences of graphic nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In French and Spanish with English subtitles.
Playing: At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.
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