Friday, February 21, 2014

"The Artist and the Model": Occupied France, sculpture, banned books, and the Mahler Ninth, in black and white

The Artist and the Model” is a Spanish-made film by Fernando Trueba (“El artista y la modeleo”) but in French.  
In 1943, in the Nazi-occupied Vichy France, in Provence, Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) lives away from the war, eyeing it at a distance, piddling with his sculptures and paintings but coming to the end of his life. He has lost passion for his wife (Claudia Cardinale).  One day she finds a young Spanish woman Merce (Aida Folch) bathing on the property.   She is a refugee from the war.  Cros starts using her is a model for his work, in a long sequence of scenes with considerable artistic nudity. 
The film is shot in black-and-white, with great definition, and in full 2.35:1 anamorphic, creating a “Hud” effect.  The camera uses the space, as it places the model and the sculptor at a same distance between them as he works, often with a workbench or other objects between them.  
One day a Nazi soldier arrives, investigating, looking for an American who may have parachuted.  He talks about books that have been banned in Germany, like Proust, and the reading habits of soldiers.  It all gets esoteric.  But Marc starts becoming evasive, and fears this wonderful period in his life may come to an end.  This sequence ties the film to similar ideas in “The Book Thief” (Nov. 17, 2013).  
Indeed it does.  His time may be up.  It is Merce whose life gets restarted at the end.  The movie ends with the conclusion of the Adagio finale, in D-flat, of the Mahler Ninth.  Oddly, Cohen Media group used this music to introduce a couple of the films on the previews on the DVD, which includes an interview with the director. 
The official site is here
This film played for a week at the West End in Washington DC last fall (and maybe the AMC Shirlington) but I missed it then.  The DVD came out quickly.  It was also a success at the San Sebastian (Spain) film festival.  
“The Statement” (Feb. 6) also deals with the “Occupied France” issue. 

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