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'The Artist and the Model' weds lushness, innocence

'Artist' gets past the common problem of the creation of art not translating well to the screen, but it leaves the audience with questions about the film's main character.

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Merce (Aida Folch) reawakens the painter and sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) in 'The Artist and the Model.'

Cohen Media Group

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In Fernando Trueba’s “The Artist and the Model,” set in occupied France in the summer of 1943, we first see the 80-year-old sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) picking his way gingerly through the countryside, parting the brambles with his cane. Clearly this is more than an outing for him; it’s a ritual. By himself, he can let his guard down and luxuriate in nature. In the company of his wife (Claudia Cardinale) and housekeeper (Chus Lampreave), he plays the role of cranky, pampered genius, although lately his inspiration has been flagging.

This all changes when he acquires a new model, Mercè (Aida Folch), a beautiful young Spanish girl who enters his life after fleeing a refugee camp in the south of France. Marc has spent his creative life molding women into artworks of grace and solidity. He sees in this “country girl,” who has never modeled before, and who has been working in the Resistance, a final chance to serve his muse.

Movies about artists, especially of the nonperforming variety, have a built-in handicap. The act of painting or sculpting is inherently undramatic, and so, to compensate, filmmakers often jack up the circumstances of the artist’s outer life. (This was evident, most recently, in the French film “Renoir.”) The result is that, in movies about artists, the artistry itself – presumably the reason we should care about these people in the first place – seems oddly irrelevant.

This doesn’t really happen in “The Artist and the Model,” which is shot in pearly black and white, perhaps because Trueba is careful to delineate Marc’s evolving creative process. He allows us to look at Mercè in the same way that Marc does – as a living sculpture and the apotheosis of femininity. And he does so without turning us into voyeurs.

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