Shot in sumptuous monochrome, Fernando Trueba’s thoughtful 2012 film The Artist and The Model – starring French character actor Jean Rochefort – adds to the director’s already eclectic oeuvre, making for satisfying viewing. Set in the rural south of France in the middle of the Second World War, we meet ageing, semi-retired sculptor Marc (Rochefort) who lives with his thickly bespectacled housekeeper and wife Léa (Claudia Cardinale), who is now in her seventies. Their life is simplistic and gentle, experiencing little impact from the war that rages on in the north of the country. The tone of The Artist and The Model is warm and reflective, centred on the contrasting dynamic of the gypsy-like Mercè (Aida Folch).
The arrival of the young girl inspires the artist to once again pick up his chisel and set to work, spurred on by the realisation that the icy hand of death is creeping drastically closer. However, there is a problem; Mercè is an inexperienced model and frustrating to work with, and she also has a secret – an affiliation to a partisan group that seek to usurp the Nazis. This slight twist is a neat addition, although very much a sideline compared to the main focus on what it means to be an artist in the final years of your life. Trueba does put art somewhat in its place through the reality of the situation in France – the complicity of the Vichy with Germany, the young men battling at the front-line – whilst Marc seemingly cares little for these contextual concerns. After all, he fought his war twenty years prior.
Marc’s fear of death is explored via a friendship with another local sculptor, who makes his living caring ornate tombstones for the residents of the surrounding area, whilst proving him with advice on which marbles to use and how to get the best out of them. Death is as much a character as the few sparse actors we see on-screen. Yet, whilst there is a melancholic tone, Trueba’s latest is far from depressing. There’s a welcome levity and an odd humour to it all, evoking the spirit of carpe diem and musing along the way on creativity and imagination. Far from revelatory, The Artist and The Model does, however, succeed in blending the best of Christopher Menaul’s Summer in February with the aesthetic sensibilities of Blancanieves. Trueba offers a great deal of charm, in what is a quiet, reflective drama.