The Artist and the Model Theatrical Review
The film takes place during the summer of 1943 Nazi occupied France in a small town not too far from the Spanish border. It's mid afternoon as famous sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort), nearing the twilight of his life, sits in a charming town courtyard having his noon tea. His faithful wife Lea (Claudia Cardinale), ex-model and aging companion, walks with Maria (Chus Lampreave) her housekeeper gathering vegetables from the market.
During her stroll Lea sees Merce (Aida Folch) a wayfarer sleeping in a doorway. Minutes later she spies her again washing her legs in a nearby fountain. She's fascinated by Merce's beauty and asks her to come to her home for some food and shelter. She introduces Merce to her husband and offers her wages, food and shelter if she'll model for him.
So begins the heartfelt tale that rekindles Cros's love and artist ability that the war snatched from him so many years ago. Writer and Director Fernando Trueba moves his story along at a delectable crawl introducing his characters, reigniting the inner torches of his characters and bringing the beauty of it all to life. He's gentle at first then adds the elements of war, the underground and even a touch of childish wonder. The subliminal context of each of the characters gets revealed in due time, but in the meantime we are treated to a play that gives reverence to the painstaking artistry of the sculptor.
The acting in The Artist and the Model is brilliant with performances out classing anything I've seen this year. Jean Rochefort (Man on the Train) provides a dramatic treat showing Cros's sadness, then reviving strength and immersion into the project of his life all while dealing with the elements that invade his artistic spirit. He reverently emulates the sculptor sketching his model with gentle strokes as if fondling his subject body creating an aura of sensuality.
Playing Merce, the model who finds herself in a strange new profession of posing naked for an eccentric old man, Aida Folch gives a charming performance. The statuesque actress creates a shy woman who over time turns into a fervent believer in Cros's project. She allows Trueba to mold her into Merce and expose her aesthetic beauty on the screen. In the end Folch's Merce becomes not only an object to be molded in clay, but the recreation of his wife when she was Cros's inspiration.
I'm amazed at the splendor that Claudia Cardinale has maintained over her career and in The Artist and the Model she commands the screen as the wife who wants to have her husband accomplish his one last great work of art. She's the one who chooses the girl that she feels embodies her younger self. The moment her name and face comes on the screen memories of Federico Fellini's 81/2, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo are just of few of the 110 titles that come to mind.
The Artist and the Model has been rated R for sequences of graphic nudity. The film also contains scenes of adult situations and an incident of violence. The excellent black and white camerawork makes the nudity in the film artistic rather than prurient.
FINAL ANALYSIS: An artistic tour de force for the whole cast and crew. (A)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 104 minutes
Distributed By: Cohen Media Group
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