Thursday, 12 September 2013

GFT programme note: The Artist and the Model

Out tomorrow on selected release, The Artist and the Model is very nice indeed - now here's some more extended thoughts on the film, written for the Glasgow Film Theatre...


The relationship between artist and muse is a perennial subject in cinema. The last three months alone has seen the release of two such films: Summer in February (Menaul, 2013), about the romantic connection between Alfred Munnings and fellow artist Florence Carter-Wood; and Renoir (Gourdos, 2012), dramatising the impressionist’s final years, with a focus on last model Catherine Hessling. To these recent examples might be added Girl with a Pearl Earring (Webber, 2003) which spins a yarn around the genesis of Vermeer’s titular artwork; Love is the Devil (Maybury, 1998), which foregrounds the inspiration Francis Bacon drew from tragic lover George Dyer; and La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette, 1991), Rivette’s four-hour study of a semi-retired French painter and the young model who rekindles his creativity.

Like the latter, The Artist and the Model centres on a fictional artist – in this case, elderly sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort), quietly living out his days near the French/Spanish border. Set in the early 1940s, reminders of the Second World War abound, with occupying forces arresting a man on charges of espionage in one early scene, and gunshots cracking through the tranquil night air later on. Residing out of town in a relatively remote chateau, Cros is physically sheltered from the war in much the way the countryside-dwelling protagonists of director Fernando Trueba’s earlier Belle Époque (1992) were removed from the realities of the Spanish Civil War. Yet the fact Cros has not entered his studio since the war began speaks to the octogenarian’s emotional, even existential toil – as does the opening scene in which he walks through woodland seeking inspiration in nature’s beauty but alighting only on the dead or discarded: a broken root, an abandoned nest, a bird’s skull. It takes the interjection of youth and beauty in the form of Spanish refugee Mercé (Aida Folch) to reawaken Cros’s creative impulses, with Mercé modelling for Cros in exchange for food and shelter. If this précis implies exploitation – a dichotomy of naïve, disadvantaged female model against lecturing, older male benefactor (a potential power imbalance underscored by the regular nudity of the former and the scrutinising eyes of the latter), it’s one unexplored by the actual film. Only once does sexual attraction explicitly factor into their relationship, and it is deployed as a punch-line rather than a dramatic incident; furthermore, when a mid-point revelation recasts Mercé as a somewhat more astute and political individual than Cros (and perhaps the audience) had presumed, labels like ‘active’ and ‘passive’ become more difficult to ascribe.

While The Artist and the Model is a work of fiction, the character of Cros has its basis in real-life figures – particularly Catalonian sculptor Aristide Maillol. Like Maillol, Cros has found international renown in his own lifetime, and approaches death amidst the horrors of WW2; moreover, he too has dedicated his life’s work exclusively to depictions of the female body. Also influential in the character’s formation is Pablo Picasso, whose late period explored the relationship between artist and model at length (indeed, the film’s title echoes a more possessive variation – ‘The Artist and His Model’ – used to title several of Picasso’s pieces on the subject).[1] Works by both these figures are visually referenced in the film: Cros’s sculptures are closely comparable in both style and stature to Maillol’s oeuvre (particularly his 1905 piece La Méditerranée); less overtly, the framing of key scenes so as to include both sculptor and muse in the same shot offers a degree of homage to Picasso’s comparably composed sketches and paintings on the theme.

In addition to these two manifest inspirations, critics have noted other, less obvious connections between Cros and actual artists; for example, Michael O’Sullivan suggests that the scene in which Rembrandt’s ‘A Child Being Taught to Walk’ is subjected to close analysis and declared the greatest drawing of all time appears to owe a debt to an article by David Hockney, in which he expresses similar sentiments.[2] All these references and overlaps make Cros something of a portmanteau figure, which adds nuance to the film’s seemingly straightforward title. To compare the film with one of its aforementioned contemporaries: where the title of Renoir made clear its interest in a singular, specific genius, The Artist and the Model presents its protagonists in more generic terms, reducing them to their respective roles in the artistic process but also elevating them: the elderly sculptor is ‘the artist’ of the title, but he is also ‘The Artist’ – a totemic representative of artistry in general.

Of course, the term ‘artist’ encompasses more than just those working with easels and plaster, and in interviews Trueba has suggested another real-life influence for certain aspects of Cros’s character: Trueba himself. The filmmaker dates The Artist and the Model back to an idea first tentatively explored in the mid-nineties, which he felt unable to do justice to at the time. “When I first started thinking of the story, I thought I was too young to make it” he explains. “For many years, I was saying to myself, ‘let me do another movie first…’ But it was better that way because the older I am, the better it is for the movie.”[3] This is echoed in the screenplay, in a scene where Mercé asks how long the sculpture will take to finish, and is told it can take up to 15 years for an idea to crystallise. This parallel between the artistry depicted onscreen and the artistry at work behind the camera makes clear that for its creator, The Artist and the Model is not only about the complications and rewards of artistic creativity; it is the fruits of it.

Christopher Buckle
Freelance researcher and journalist
September 2013

[1] The gallery available at offers a comprehensive overview of Picasso’s work on this theme.

[2] Michael O’Sullivan (2013) ‘‘The Artist and the Model’ movie review’, The Washington Post, accessed 09/09/13 at

[3] Karen Bernardello (2013) ‘Interview: Fernando Trueba and Aida Folch on The Artist and the Model,, accessed 09/09/13 at

No comments:

Post a Comment