Cézanne And I

***

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cézanne Et Moi
"It is the two world-famous guys Thompson tries to pin down like butterflies, as if she were a lepidopterist. They escape, of course, because their works are still alive."

Rarely in cinema has one man's talent been attacked so much from all angles as Paul Cézanne's (Guillaume Gallienne) is here. Nobody understands what he is doing as he struggles to reach his own artistic goal. Danièle Thompson's dual portrait has Guillaume Canet embody Émile Zola, boyhood friend to the clearly misunderstood and troubled being.

Back and forth in time we jump, in Cézanne Et Moi, from the South of France to Paris and back with the two great masters of their respective arts. In one scene they are schoolboys (Hugo Fernandes as Paul and Lucien Belvès as Émile) forming a bond, in the next they fall for the same woman, compete at discussing what artistic creation is, or are at each other's throats for something else.

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Zola, who started out fatherless and wanting, is seen moving up in the world and embracing what the other despises. From someone catching sparrows for dinner - a scene Thompson seems to revel in - to the owner of a house filled with everything the 19th century middle class could ever desire, Canet fills his Zola with pungent competitiveness until he reaches a plateau of satisfaction in an openly exposed double life.

The women in Cézanne's life were his mother Anne-Elisabeth (Sabine Azéma) and wife Hortense (Déborah François, also in Claude Lelouch's latest, Chacun Sa Vie). For Zola, his mother Émilie (Isabelle Candelier), wife Alexandrine (Alice Pol of Lelouch's Un + Une), and mistress Jeanne (Freya Mavor). Azéma's face, when she contemplates the clock in the painting done by her son brought to her by Zola, is transparent, as though we could gaze straight into the agony of her soul. It is an expression of pity, protectiveness, resignation. I love you anyway, my boy, despite your rejection of the comfortable bourgeois life that could have been yours, she seems to say with her eyes.

Gallienne, who played Pierre Bergé in Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent, enters into Cézanne's vision, and the women around him. We see the volatile painter overhear his "friends" gossiping and he has to read a very unflattering, suicidal portrait of himself in Zola's novel The Masterpiece (L'Œuvre). Cézanne and Zola and their colleagues squabble over their positions and fate in life.

Where else can you find Édouard Manet (Nicolas Gob), Camille Pissarro (Romain Cottard), Guy de Maupassant (Félicien Juttner), Baptistin Baille (Pierre Yvon), Auguste Renoir (Alexandre Kouchner), Ambroise Vollard (Laurent Stocker), Francisco Oller (Pablo Cisneros), Achille Empéraire (Romain Lancry), Père Tanguy (Christian Hecq), and Frédéric Bazille (Patrice Tepasso) - all in one film?

When François Ozon, in Frantz, tells of his two young male leads, Adrien (Pierre Niney) and the title character (Anton von Lucke), spending a day in the Louvre, looking at paintings, you can imagine what they might have had to say to each other. Cézanne and Zola, doing the same here, leave little room for the imagination.

Women in Cézanne Et Moi do verbally complain and stick around anyway. A muse is a muse and maybe there was nowhere else for them to go either and Zola's wife and mistress just have to cope. Thompson does not focus on them. It is the two world-famous guys she tries to pin down like butterflies, as if she were a lepidopterist. They escape, of course, because their works are still alive.

Bathed in seductively beautiful light that makes you want to pack your bags and join them painting in the forest right now, cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou's landscape compositions are the backbone of the film.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2017
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Drama about the friendship between Cézanne and Émile Zola.

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French 2016

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