23 September 1999 | eastie
not just arty twaddle
A young artist and his girlfriend run into an aging master who has not painted for many years. It emerges that he stopped in the middle of a painting of his wife which threatened to destroy his marriage. Why this should be so is not at first clear. Over time, however, as the young artist's girlfriend poses for the older artist so that he can finish the painting, it becomes apparent quite how emotionally demanding the artistic process is.
Many people seem to find this film boring or pretentious. It's a matter of taste I guess. I found the long sections of the artist sketching his model extremely compelling. Even if you can't imagine this, give the film a try. I have a friend who hates arty films, particularly if they're in a foreign language. His favourite film is the Rock, yet he started watching this (with the sole aim of seeing Emmanuelle Beart in the buff, which she is for most of the movie) and ended up sitting through the whole four hours. It has a genuinely hypnotic quality.
Aside from the debate about the art sections of the film, its content is superb. The characters are real, interesting and beautifully played. The Beart character in particular is a wonderful depiction of someone who is deeply scarred, but erects a powerful veneer of independence to protect herself. As the artist sketches her from every angle, he gradually gets under her defences, until her entire personality is exposed on canvas. I know this sounds really pretentious, but this film effectively argues that what marks out a masterpiece is that someone's soul - either the artist's or the model's - is put on canvas, and in the process, they and the people close to them are affected irrevocably. Ultimately, the only real flaw in this film is, I'm informed, that the sketches themselves aren't actually that good. If you're like me and have a limited sensitivity to such things, this shouldn't bother you. If not, try not to let it spoil a beautiful, rewarding and profoundly satisfying movie.