The French film Cezanne et Moi recalls the friendship of artist Paul Cezanne, and writer Emile Zola. The film is rated R for language, sexual references and nudity. I saw it at my local art cinema this last month. It should still be playing in that type of theater. The film has English subtitles.
The frenetic pace of the film in the beginning showcases the two friends meeting as boys at school, and then continues back and forth over the years of their volatile relationship in the late 1800’s. The frenetic pace settles down after a bit into the story, but I still did not appreciate so much back and forth through time, although labeled quite clearly on screen. Less bouncing around would have helped the story feel less disjointed.
Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) is every bit the tortured artist, throwing temper tantrums when his painting doesn’t live up to his high standards, often kicking a foot through the canvas. Zola (Guillaume Canet), once he attains success and fame as a writer, is a bit more stable. If you go to see this film expecting to see much of Cezanne’s finished works, or learn more about what Zola wrote and published, you will not.
It is very much a character driven film about two brilliant men, and their deep devotion to each other that at times brings a distance between them. Their relations with women are troubled to say the least, and Cezanne resents the easy life he perceives Zola to have achieved in his palatial home on the outskirts of Paris.
Cezanne is one of the first plein air artists (to paint outdoors). This is a thriving pastime in the US and elsewhere that I know about since my husband, a studio oil painter of landscapes, also paints plein air. It is not an easy vocation, or avocation for that matter. The elements and changing light make it difficult to finish a work in one sitting; at most only a couple of hours at a time can be used effectively.
Emile Zola is well regarded by the French, and some of his works were about the trials of the working class. He was the subject of an early Academy Award winning black and white film, The Life of Emile Zola, starring Paul Muni, a film I regret I have not seen as yet.
Watching Cezanne et Moi may inspire you to learn more about the men who influenced art and literature so completely that their names are recognized a full century plus after their deaths. I appreciated the way the scenery was filmed in the beautiful countryside of Provence, and the costuming of the actors.
At the end, we see a photo of a mountain frequently painted, with different artists' takes on the subject. What makes art so interesting is that even when artists are trained similarly, when they paint the same subject, it is always unique. Just as there will never be another Cezanne, no two artists' works are alike.