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The Artist And The Model (15)

There's one thing missing from an idealised view of the struggling artist, says Jeff Sawtell, and that's the realities of a world in turmoil

Directed by Fernando Trueba
Three stars

The publicity poster for The Artist And The Model includes a colourful picture of a reclining nude, reminiscent of Renoir.

Possibly, the film's publicists wanted to attract those who wouldn't normally go to art films.

But such deceptions only serve to confuse, since the artist in question appears to be a composite of many prominent in the 1940s.

The film features the excellent Jean Rochfort as an ageing sculptor who's apparently lost the mojo formerly provided by his beautiful wife, played by the wonderful Claudia Cardinale.

She espies a voluptuous young women (Aida Folch) and invites her home to meet her husband, sure she will inspire him to create what he conceives as the embodiment of beauty.

Despite the urgency of the time - 1943 - this artist has tried to get as far away from the war front as his memories of the first world war slaughter are still strong and haunting.

The young woman, from Catalonia, is involved in the Spanish resistance, guiding people across the Pyrenees. Apart from her physical charms, she has an almost mythical bearing.

Trueba avoids sensuality by resorting to black and white film, with cinematographer Daniel Vilar emphasising the tonal qualities that define form.

Yet despite all the sculptor's attempts to illustrate the process of an idea, expressed through explaining a simple charcoal drawing by Rembrandt, his work lacks life.

His notion of perfection is God's creation of woman, with man the product of their consummation and life being a constant battle to resolve the contradiction.

Yet as he rediscovers his libido the news of the war is a reminder of a much greater struggle, symbolised by the battle for Stalingrad.

The artists's troubles are rudely interrupted by the arrival of a German officer (Gotz Otto) who's writing a book on him, along with the appearance of a partisan and the sight of a US parachute.

Yet these intrusions are sacrificed on the altar of his concerted efforts to capture vivacious form, creating a pastiche of a Greek statue before deciding on his fate.

He'd have been better off looking at Rodin for inspiration or, better still, his model and sculptor Camille Claudel.

Even Picasso late in life would represent relationships with women in a vital and visceral form that will ever resonate with those who live life to the full.

But Trueba's work is about the death of an arcadia, like Renoir's chocolate-box paintings.


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