“L’artiste et son modèle” pairs a famous old artist with a beautiful young model: the story should write itself, but Fernando Trueba has a different idea. The director – film critic, publisher, later producer/director of “Belle Epoque” and scores of other films – has come up with an original, affecting, black-and-white movie, fitting in the “they don’t make them like that any more” category.
Predictably, there is a relationship developing between Marc Cros, the grand old artist, played magnificently by the octogenarian Jean Rochefort, and Mercè, the young woman, acted with understated mastery by Aida Folch, but the way it does is unexpected and meaningful.
The girl is a refugee from Spain, a victim of Franco’s rule; the elderly sculptor and his wife (Claudia Cardinale herself), living in the south of France, give her shelter and introduce her to a modeling career. A former acquaintance of Matisse and Cézanne, Cros is clearly at the end of both career and life, but – almost out of habit – he still creates, and Mercè’s presence revitalizes him, she becomes his last muse.
Cardinale’s patient, loving wife speaks of the sculptor as “a good man, though an artist…” – one of Trieba’s many insights into situations and characters. Free of anything didactic, the film is full of memorable scenes, such as Cros explaining to Mercè how to look at a Rembrandt drawing.
“The Artist and the Model,” says one review lacking any semblance of insight should “delight patient, older audiences.” Ignore that patronizing misjudgment: characters, atmosphere, the feelings generated by the film should appeal to audiences of any age (as long as allowed to see “tasteful nudity”) and any temperament.
While Rochefort and Folch give flawless performances – the actors disappearing in the role – every moment Cardinale is on screen is a special treat; she embues what could be a background character with life that transcends the story.
Shown earlier this year at the San Francisco International Film Festival, “The Artist and the Model” is coming to the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco on August 16.
My only misgiving is about the black-and-white setting; while it contributes to the setting of the film in early 1940s, the beautiful landscape might have looked even better in color – but it’s the filmmaker’s choice, and he more than deserves respect, even admiration… so let him have his choice in this matter.