Cezanne and I
France has much to celebrate for its remaking of European art and culture in the
second half of the 19th C., especially in the plastic arts from Courbet to Monet and beyond. The new film “Cezanne and I” (Cezanne et Moi) personalizes a segment of that fecund period with a lovely re imagining of the life-long friendship between perhaps the greatest French painter of that epoch, Paul Cezanne, and the ground-breaking novelist Emile Zola. The film, written and directed by Daniéle Thompson (“Jet Lag”), honors both the two artists and the world they moved in.
The film opens with a fateful meeting between the two giants in Zola’s handsome country manse in 1888, the year their friendship foundered when Zola wrote a novel negatively depicting his old comrade. From that framing device, the action shifts to their lengthy backstory, starting with their grammar school days in 1852 in Aix-en-Provence. Their mutual struggle to succeed as artists is traced through time, jumping from the 1860’s, when they were forming their own styles, into the 1870’s and 1880’s when they were forging their mature works.
In every scene between them, we observe them in searching and contending
conversations about their art and lives (hey, these guys are Frenchmen after all). These conversations reveal both their affection for one another as well as their native contentiousness. Zola (Canet) is the intellect, sooth but sardonic, yet with an open heart, especially for the French working classes he writes about. Meanwhile, Cezanne (Guillaume Galliene) is all intuition, cantankerous and bold, rejecting the painting of the staid Academie to pursue his own visions.
Over time, Zola becomes a “great man,” a best-selling author who lives a bucolic
bourgeois life in the Paris suburb of Médan with his conventional wife Alexandrine (Alice Pol) and a favorite mistress Jeanne (Freya Mavor)). Cezanne, though from a well-off provincial family (his distant father runs a family bank), sells almost nothing, lives with his mistress/wife Hortense (Déborah François), and continues to depend on his parents, even as he re-envisions the standard subjects of painting, portraiture, still life, and landscape. How that varied economic dynamic tests their bond is also limned in “Cezanne et Moi.”
The film is essentially a reverie of the men’s relationship with a gorgeous
backdrop of the French countryside that surrounds them, evoking a brace of famous French paintings by stalwarts such as Manet, Pissaro, Renoir, among others. None of this imagery is more telling, however, than when Cezanne happens upon a sight of Montagne Sainte-Victoire in Aix, a mountain landscape he made his own in many works. His rapt coming upon it in the middle of the film could be seen as a facile movie version of “inspiration,” but for this viewer it works wonderfully, particularly if you know the artist’s oeuvre.
Thompson’s script is tart about the artists’ work. In the petulant scene of the
break-up, Emile chides Paul by exclaiming “You don’t read my books anymore; you judge them,” (and by extension, the writer), while Cezanne counters that Zola has become “merely a voyeur.” Earlier, Cezanne’s long-suffering Hortense reproaches the painter for “lavishing your love on the canvas” rather than upon her. She adds: “there is more humanity in his apples than in his eyes.”
This is a film of bon mots and bon “shots.”
(The film is rated “R” and runs 117 mins.)
Photo Credit: Guillaume Canet (sitting left) is Zola and Guillaume Gallienne (painting) in “Cézanne et Moi,” a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy
of Magnolia Pictures
For his sequel to the outlandish “Trainspotting” (1996), director Danny Boyle updates us, 20 years later, on the lives of his four Scottish louts in “T2 Trainspotting.” The first film was a wild ride through the Edinburgh underclass and drug scene whose reputation has grown over the years as a landmark shocker in British cinema for its tawdry subject matter and its disjointed, often frenzied, storytelling. It also transformed the careers of its four leads.
Besides Ewan McGregor as Mark Fenton, “Trainspotting” introduced Jonny Lee Miller (as Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson), Ewen Bremner (“Spud” Murphy) and Robert Carlisle (Francis “Franco” Begbie), as, respectively, a handsome street hustler, an unremitting junkie, and a living temper tantrum. All are longer in the tooth in “T2” but they retain their individual natures 20 years on.
Mark has returned home after 15 years living a semi-normal life in Amsterdam to deal with the death of his mum. Simon runs a shabby saloon and makes a living off sexual blackmail using a Bulgarian tart Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud has lost a wife and family to his habit and contemplates suicide. Franco is doing a 25-year stretch in the slammer and has just been denied parole.
Though Spud, the mildest of the original crew, has no bone to pick with Mark, both Simon and Franco—once they learn that Markie’s back in town—want revenge after he ran out on them with £16,000 from a big drug sale. It doesn’t take long for the one-time mates to drift back into each other’s orbit. Mark re-bonds with Spud after saving his life and re-connects with Simon over their boyhood pasts, while furious Franco escapes from prison to get back at Mark.
What people remember from the original “Trainspotting” was its pell-mell pace, with the boys constantly running away from authorities or themselves, getting beaten up, or beating themselves up, often shot in jump cuts accompanied by pounding music. It also became notorious for a wretch-worth toilet scene that few can put out of their mind. Boyle’s anarchic style—which also contained moments of reflection and macho humor-- became a model for subsequent tales of wayward British youth.
Boyle, who went on to make such diverse films as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours,” and “Steve Jobs,” here revisits his rollicking early style, and there are no surprises when the four lads revert to their old ways, becoming, as one character says, “tourists in their own youth.” They have “grown” little in two decades.
There is some leavening of their coarseness in “T2 Trainspotting”: more family life is depicted, with even out-of-control Franco is given some domestic moments with his wife and son, and the Bulgarian is a true wild card, a street-wise young woman who assesses the four as the little boys they are. There are lovely set pieces, too, as when Simon and Mark exult over their longtime soccer passions, or when the two demurely suit up to apply for an EU business loan, a visit way out of their comfort range. What doesn’t change is their language: for those with sensitive ears, the dialogue is a constant stream of obscenities, a few of which cannot help but turn out funny. If you ever had a yen for any of these blokes in the original movie, or you want to get down with some Scottish sleaze, this is your picture.
(The film runs 118 mins. and earns a hard “R” rating with violence, some skin, and ripe language.)
Photo Credit: The boys are back in “T2 Trainspotting,” from left to right: Spud (Ewen Bremner), Fenton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Photo by Jaap Buitendijk courtesy of Sony Pictures