The Artist and the Model is a delightful black and white film with the backdrop of 1943 World War II occupied France as the setting. A well-regarded aging sculptor, still having the artistic yearning within him, uses a young model found by his wife to pose for his work. The film is rated R for sequences of graphic nudity. Languages spoken are French and Spanish, with English subtitles.
Léa (Claudia Cardinale) spots Mercè (Aida Folch), a young Spanish woman, on the streets while at the market, and befriends her. She gently suggests to Mercè that she pose as a model for her husband Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort). They will pay her and give her room and board during the time she is with them. Léa has to convince the young woman that no wrongdoing will occur during her nude modeling.
The couple lives in the countryside where nature provides the music to the silence of the art as it is undertaken. A bit frightened at first, Mercè becomes more comfortable with her body, and Marc finds inspiration, an idea for a new sculpture, from observing Mercè.
Amongst all of the modeling and sculpting, which seems to take several weeks at least, World War II continues. The Germans are nearby and pose a distinct threat. Allied paratroopers float into the woods, and Mercè reveals herself as a braver woman than her initial reticence at nude modeling might suggest.
I found the friendship between the German soldier Werner (Götz Otto) and Marc quite touching. Werner is an arts scholar writing a book about Marc, and his affection for the older man is genuine. That they can bridge the gap between whose side each is on is admirable.
Marc is philosophical and shares his thoughts on God and creation with Mercè, one of the more enchanting scenes in the film.
I didn’t care much for the ending. My husband, who is an artist, very much appreciated the film and seemed to have more of an understanding of what the artist did at the end once his sculpture was finished, once Mercè is on her way to Marseilles to a new life.
The black and white cinematography is exquisite in its play of light and shadow. Fernando Trueba along with Jean-Claude Carrière wrote the screenplay and Trueba directed.
I recommend this splendid European film, a work of art in itself. You probably wouldn’t see a film like this come out of the U.S. or Hollywood. Too much repression, and artists are not really held in high regard here like they are in Europe. Most films glorify violence, not sensuality or the beauty of the human body like this one does.
I have seen the animated film Chico and Rita also by Trueba and his colleagues, which is a wonderful romantic adult animated feature film. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the first nomination for a Spanish full-length animated film. I highly recommend you watch that delightful film as well.