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Juan Carlos Rulfo
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Fernando Fernán Gómez,
Marc Cros, an elderly sculptor, lives with his wife Lea in the south of France, safe from the War that rages in the distance. He seems to have reached the end of his life and of his art. One day, Léa gives shelter to a beautiful young Spanish political refugee named Mercè. Marc soon understands that the girl, who agrees to pose for him, inspires him and that he has no choice but to embark on this last artistic (and sensual) adventure... Written by
Movies like "Belle époque" or "Two Much", directed by Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, were pleasant but rather shallow. But for some time (particularly since "Chico & Rita" in 2010), Trueba's cinema, while still celebrating woman and her beauty, has become more and more profound, something art lovers will certainly not complain about. Belonging to this vein,"L'artiste et son modèle" ("The Artist and the Model" in the USA), the Spanish director's latest effort, not only displays this newly acquired maturity but it is even downright close to perfection. As a matter of fact the viewers, provided they are not put off by the film's slow contemplative rhythm (but a rhythm there is), will be invited to a fascinating journey into the heart of things, into the essence of life. No less! With "The Artist and the Model", Trueba has not made just another movie, but achieved a real work of art that touches us deeply, building on a very simple but all the more powerful story: Marc, an elderly sculptor living in the heart of nature, far from the madding war (I mean World War II), finds a new muse in the (charming) person of a young Spanish refugee and undertakes the last (and certainly the most important) work of his life. And this is not just another story either, but one told with oozing sincerity and total commitment. Both sensual and philosophical, Marc's last adventure (inspired by the last experiences of Aristide Maillol working with his final muse Diana Vierny) allows Fernando Trueba to examine two themes of utmost importance to him: his love of beauty and particularly of the female body and his love of art (and of sculpture in particular). Another mark of dedication is the emotional tribute he pays to his brother, a famous sculptor who died prematurely in the 1990s. Now at the top of his art, the formerly superficial director has become able to describe life and nothing else, without relying on any easy plot twist or cinematic effect, without the obvious advantages of color (but what a luminous black and white cinematography!), without the support of a musical score (but what an enhancement of the sounds produced by nature, by objects moving, by human voices!).
Having, more than one common point with the character he embodies, Jean Rochefort is the right man in the right place. Like the aging sculptor, he is at the end of a long and successful career. Like Mercè's sculpture for Marc, this film could well be the achievement of Rochefort's life time. In any case, the French actor, who lends the old sculptor his own weary and caustic sensibility, is the right man. His female partner, Aida Folch, who plays Mercè, the young model, gives off the right dose of sensuality while managing to make apparent her intelligence and her strong convictions beyond the academic beauty of her body. In the more discreet role of Marc's longtime wife, Claudia Cardinale turns a convincing performance.
"L'artiste et son modèle" is one of the best films made on the theme of artists at work. Its message is, just like its script, both simple and powerful : "Learn to look at the world around you. Do not be content to give a sweeping, utilitarian look, try to see things and living creatures the way they are, in all their tell-tale details. Just the way Marc teaches Mercè to look at a Rembrandt drawing in one of the most fascinating scenes of the movie. A valuable lesson, both of art and life.
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