Cézanne et Moi
The French drama tells of the friendship between writer Emile Zola and the French painter.
“Cézanne et moi” captures the world at a crucial pivot point, when art was worth fighting about and had the power to change the world. The “moi” of the title happens to be the novelist Emile Zola; the film, written and directed by Danièle Thompson, chronicles the near-lifelong friendship between two men who grew up in Aix en Provence, became starving artists together in Paris, fought over women and money and artistic principles, and finally met two ironically different fates.
Guillaume Canet delivers a decorous, watchful portrayal of Zola, an Italian immigrant who is taunted when he arrives in Aix as a fatherless child; it’s a kid named Paul Cézanne — played as an adult by Guillaume Gallienne — who comes to his rescue. Although he comes from money, Cézanne detests the bourgeois business world his father wants for him; when Zola moves to Paris with his mother, working on the docks and capturing songbirds on the street for meager dinners, Cézanne arrives with a flourish. Soon the two are drinking with the likes of Renoir, Manet and Pissarro, and embarking on plein-air picnics with other artists and bohemian friends.
Toggling between those scenes of youth and an acrimonious reunion in 1888 — when Cézanne strenuously objects to his oblique portrayal in Zola’s novel “L’ Oeuvre” — “Cézanne et moi” is an arresting, attractively staged examination of two men determined to blow open the formal languages they’re working in, in Zola’s case to bring tougher realism to the French novel. He succeeds, and becomes rich and famous. Cézanne wanted to dig even deeper, bypassing realism to get to the more abstract essence of things, beyond the pastel washes of impressionism. He succeeded as well, but not in time to become a living legend. Anchored by two superb performances — especially Gallienne’s tetchy, temperamental title character — “Cézanne et moi” never does complete visual or narrative justice to the painter’s revolutionary, protocubist eye. But it’s a touching evocation of friendship, brotherly competition and artistic courage at the cusp of a new century.
R. At Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains profanity, sexual references and nudity. In French with subtitles. 117 minutes.
Guillaume Canet, left, and Guillaume Gallienne star as French artists and friends Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne, respectively, only one of whom got to enjoy legendary fame in his lifetime.