Thursday, April 20, 2017

The story of a stormy relationship

Cezanne et Moi tells the story of the friendship between Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola.
Sometimes expectation becomes the enemy of enjoyment. That partly explains why I found Cezanne et Moi, the story of the stormy friendship between artist Paul Cezanne and novelist Emile Zola disappointing.

But my initial enthusiasm about the prospect of seeing a movie about an artist whose studio and home I visited in Aix-en-Provence isn't the only reason that Cezanne et Moi proved a letdown.

The rub: The movie doesn't have enough to say about either Cezanne's art or Zola's writing.

Skipping back and forth in time, director Daniele Thompson depicts a relationship in which Zola gains fame and fortune and Cezanne suffers from a lack of recognition. Although their fates were different, neither man achieved much by way of contentment.

Cezanne comes across as a typical outsider, a painter who's contemptuous of the success of other artists. He can behave in ways that turn him into the sort of fellow people might cross the street to avoid.

Zola, on the other hand, acquires money, a home in Paris and social status. But in this telling, he also knows that his comfortable life is at odds with the social outlook expressed in his writing. He frets about being a hypocrite.

Cezanne and Zola were childhood friends in Aix-en-Provence, but as the two matured, their social positions reversed. Usually broke, Cezanne struggled to survive on a small allowance from his disapproving family. Zola, who didn't hail from a family with money, found material success.

Zola's novel, L'oeuvre became the occasion for a major split between the two men because it depicted details of Cezanne's life. Cezanne felt betrayed.

Guillaume Canet plays Zola as an emotionally steady fellow who loans Cezanne money and mostly endures the painter's insults. Guillaume Gallienne has the showier role as an artist of explosive temperament.

Women are less important to the story, but not inconsequential. Alice Pol portrays Zola's wife, Alexandrine, a woman with whom Cezanne once had an affair. Alexandrine was a seamstress and maybe a prostitute whose marriage to Zola moved her up the social ladder. Deborah Francois portrays Cezanne's mistress.

All of this would have been fine had Thompson done more to explore the work of either man. She particularly shortchanges Cezanne, offering too little by way of illumination about how he viewed his work.

Safe to say that Cezanne has eclipsed Zola in terms of reputation, so a modest suggestion: A trip to a museum where you can view Cezanne's art might prove more rewarding than this scattered, intermittently compelling drama.

No comments: