An Artist and His Muse
By Skip Sheffield
There have been countless stories of artists and their muses, dating back to Dante and even before.
“The Artist and the Model” is another such story, but it is a particularly, artfully realized fable by Spanish writer-director Fernando Trueba.
Trueba dedicates the film to Maximo Trueba. I learned he was a sculptor and the brother of Fernando. Maximo’s life was cut short in 1996 an auto accident at age 42. There is a lot of fascinating back story to this project. The origin dates to 1990, when Fernando and Maximo planned to collaborate.
Maximo’s death was just two years after Fernando Trueba won the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for “La Belle Époque” in 1994.
Shot in sparkling black-and-white, with French language and set in the South of France near the Spanish border in the summer of 1943, “The Artist and the Model” is a lovely tribute not only to Maximo Trueba, but to artists everywhere who struggle to harness, mold and maintain their artistic inspiration.
The artist of the story, Marc Cros, is played by the great French actor Jean Rochefort. Rochefort told Fernando Trueba he was planning to retire, which gave the director a sense of urgency.
Rochefort is now 83. We are fortunate Trueba was able to persuade Rochefort to take on the role of a character a lot like himself.
Marc Cros is a famous French sculptor who retreated to his house and has not set foot in his studio since
France was overrun by the Nazis.
Marc lives with his devoted wife Lea (one-time Italian sexpot Claudia Cardinale, still beautiful) who was once his model and inspiration. After a lifetime together she knows him better than anyone.
One day Lea is in the village marketplace with her housekeeper Maria (Chus Lampreave) when she spots a tattered but pretty young woman asleep on a doorstep.
Lea knows at first glance that the woman; a Spanish refugee named Merce (Aida Folch), is just the type who could inspire Marc as a model.
Merce is a rough and tumble girl who has been involved in smuggling rebels out of Gen. Franco’s fascist
Spain. She is also a stunning
beauty with a voluptuous body; perfect for the sensuous female shapes Marc
creates out of clay with his hands before the sculptures are recast in marble
The artist states at the outset his model must be comfortable posing completely nude.
Merce is a little shy at first, but she learns to let go her inhibitions while learning about the mysteries of artistic inspiration from the master. It becomes clear this will be the artist’s last work. Possibly it will be his crowing achievement.
The movie is very sensuous and bold in its depiction of artful nudity, but it also has its funny and dramatic diversions. School children are intrigued with the prospect of a naked woman lounging in the old artist’s studio. On a nighttime walk Merce encounters Pierre (Martin Gamet), a wounded French resistance fighter. She convinces Marc to harbor him, despite the steady threat of occupying Germans.
One of these is an officer named Werner (Gotz Otto), who oddly enough is an art aficionado, admirer and author of a forthcoming biography of Marc Cros.
“The Artist and the Model” is not only visually sumptuous, the language of the artist praising female form and inherent moral superiority is quite poetic. You may not agree with this cranky old artist, but you will find his words quite inspiring.