Cézanne et Moi

 

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Two artists and a friendship long lasting but not eternal.

 

Cézanne et Moi
Guillaume Gallienne and Guillaume Canet

 

There was a time when good-looking French period pieces were all the rage in this country. The heyday of that kind of film was marked by the enormous commercial success of Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon des Sources both made in 1986. More recently we have occasionally had films in the same tradition and memorable for the beauty of their French landscapes such as Daniel Auteuil's The Well Digger's Daughter, but such scenes crop up more often these days in films about artists. Thus in 2012 we had Gilles Bourdos's Renoir and now there's this film by Danièle Thompson. The 'Moi' of title refers presumably to the author Emile Zola since, although he is not the film's narrator, Cézanne et Moi is a kind of double biopic centred not just on Paul Cézanne but on both artists, the painter and the novelist.

 

The link is a very valid one since, born only a year apart, Cézanne and Zola grew up in Aix-en-Provence where they became friends, subsequently remaining close until Cézanne took offence over Zola's portrait of the tragic artist Lantier in his 1886 novel L'Œuvre which he regarded as being based on himself. If Zola rather loses out in this film that's because Thompson's screenplay, while comparing Zola's fame with Cézanne's struggle to become recognised as a great artist, decidedly sidelines Zola's work.  Nevertheless, she follows the lives of both men starting at Médan where Zola visits Cézanne in the late 1880s but then going back to Provence in 1852 and ending up in 1899, by which time Cézanne's paintings were at last being exhibited through the endeavours of Ambroise Vollard (Laurent Stocker). Wives may feature too as does Zola's mistress, Jeanne (Freya Mavor), but by seeking to cover such a long period Thompson has created a bitty film that is constantly moving forward abruptly with titles to tell you where you are ('Paris 1867', 'L'Estaque 1870', 'Aix-en-Provence 1877' and so on). The way in which the film returns at intervals to its chosen starting point only adds to the lack of a smooth flow.

 

Consequently, while Cézanne et Moi looks very handsome with its colour and 'Scope photography by Jean-Marie Dreujou, it fails to play to full effect as a detailed and involving drama of a friendship that fell short of its aim to be eternal. Instead, it's a surface guide to their lives, a sketch that gives limited opportunities to the capable Guillaume Canet as Zola, although Guillaume Gallienne (of the Académie Française as his credit has it) does bring some extra presence to his portrayal of Cézanne. The actresses involved including Alice Pol, Déborah François and the veteran Sabine Azéma have even less chance to impress. Cézanne et Moi is not a bad film exactly, but it never finds the depth or the storytelling thrust that the subject deserves.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Déborah François, Pierre Yvon, Sabine Azéma, Gérard Meylan, Laurent Stocker, Isabelle Candelier, Freya Mavor.

 

Dir Danièle Thompson, Pro Albert Koski, Vivien Aslanin and Alain Terzian, Screenplay Danièle Thompson, Ph Jean-Marie Dreujou, Pro Des Michèle Abbé-Vannier, Ed Sylvie Landra, Music Éric Neveux, Costumes Catherine Leterrier.

 

G Films/Path/Orange Studios/France 2 Cinema-StudioCanal.
117 mins. France. 2016. Rel: 14 April 2017. Cert. 15.