Monday, July 29, 2013

Trueba’s The Artist and the Model

While it is not exactly Casablanca, plenty of war refugees will find their way to this French Pyrenees village.  Some are fleeing the German occupiers, but Mercè has escaped from one of Franco’s prison camps on the other side of the border.  However, she has the perfect look for sculptor Marc Cros.  His creative inspiration will flow once again as they share a mutual respite from war and the other messy concerns of life in Fernando Trueba’s The Artist and the Model (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Despite her bedraggled condition, Cros’s indulgent wife Léa recognizes Mercè as her husband classic model-type. He too comes to agree after Madame Cros cleans and feeds the young woman.  Soon they are off to his remote mountain studio, where she will earn her keep modeling for the man who considers Matisse a close friend and colleague.  He had essentially withdrawn from life, so any spark she might kindle will be all to the good.  After all, Cros is eighty years old and decidedly world weary.  Yet, as they while away the hours in amid the natural beauty of his rustic lodge, she re-awakens his passions as an artist and a man.

The lulling effect of their temporary oasis is so seductive, viewers are apt to lose sight of Trueba’s wartime setting.  Occasionally, events intrude on their idyllic interlude, such as Werner, an upper class German officer and art historian, who has been writing the definitive book on Cros.  He is an intriguing character Götz Otto never really has adequate time to explore.

Aside from Claudia Cardinale’s wonderfully wise and mature appearance as Léa Cros, A & M is essentially a two-hander, featuring two enormously photogenic co-leads.  It is impossible to stifle a sigh when gazing at Jean Rochfort’s deeply creased face and profoundly sad eyes.  Conversely, Aida Folch’s Mercè looks as if she might have stepped out of a Renoir painting.  Yet, she has a darker, more mature presence than the coquettish Christa Théret in Gilles Bourdos’s Renoir, an obvious comparison film.

For Trueba, A & M represents a triumph of mise-en-scène, worthy of an artist like Cros.  Indeed, Daniel Vilar’s black-and-white cinematography is truly exquisite and every richly detailed corner of Cros’s studio sets could be the subject of a rewarding still life.  Clearly, Trueba privileges on-screen composition over narrative in his hothouse fable.  It is definitely a slow burner, with the emphasis on slow, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Lovely to look at, The Artist and the Model is recommended for mature viewers who appreciate the manner Trueba intertwines the melancholy and the erotic.  It opens this Friday (8/2) in New York at the Paris Theatre.