Aug. 16--It's fun to watch two European screen veterans -- Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale -- go through their paces in Fernando Trueba's "The Artist and the Model." But although this leisurely tale of an aged French sculptor offers a few other small pleasures, in the end it lacks heft.
Partly about the importance of fresh observation, the film has little new to say about life, inspiration or art.
It's 1943, and well-known artist Marc (Rochefort) lives with his wife (Cardinale) in the French countryside near the Spanish border. He is 80 and hasn't produced a sculpture in years. In town, the wife spots Merce (Aida Folch), a beautiful, voluptuous young Spanish woman who is fleeing Franco's Spain, and offers her work as a model in hopes of stoking her husband's dormant artistic fires.
The gist of the film, which was co-written by longtime Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carri re, shows the developing relationship between the gruff sculptor and naive model -- she gets plenty of camera time posing nude, and he sketches her, works up clay models and talks to her about art and creation. There's a subplot involving the Resistance, but it doesn't contribute much.
At a couple of moments, the film shows life, such as when Marc explains at length the merits of a simple Rembrandt drawing. And there's a touching visit from a refined German officer, an art professor in prewar days who has been working on a book about the old man.
Shot in dreamlike black and white, the movie always looks handsome, and the skillful performance by Rochefort, as he muses about the importance of pursuing "the idea," is never boring. Cardinale has less to do, but gives a nice turn as the all-supportive spouse. Folch deserves credit for holding her own against these two.
In "Chico & Rita," his 2010 animated film for adults about Cuban musicians, Trueba endowed a routine love story with a certain vitality. Despite its more substantial subject, "The Artist and the Model" feels slighter and tamer.
Walter Addiego is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com
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