Loud voices and raucous laughter ring out in the bistros of Paris in the mid-1800's, each young adult trying to be more clever than the next in their efforts to mock and rebuke the bourgeois values they disdain. Among these youths are Paul Cezanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and his more timid friend, Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet), who clamor with the rest to be heard. These two have been the best of friends since childhood --- and this is "Cézanne et Moi".
Zola grew up without a father, consequently, he is extremely close to his mother, Emilie (Isabelle Candelier). They are quite poor, in contrast to Cézanne, whose father is very wealthy, and very unsupportive of his only son's penchant for painting. But like Zola, Cézanne's relationship with his mother, Anne-Elisabeth (Sabine Azéma), is bound by love.
The two boys enjoyed an idyllic existence in Aix-en-Provence, but, like many young men of their day, the draw of Paris and its art and literary scene soon proves too much of a temptation. Zola begins his career in the City of Lights as an art critic, then shifts to writing novels. Cézanne's frustration with his work swells into a distinct dislike for Paris and all of its conventional inhabitants. He returns to his familiar surroundings in the south of France, but success fro him as a painter does not happen while he is alive.
Zola, meanwhile, marries Alexandrine (Alice Pol), one of Cézanne's models and former lovers. Emilie does not like Alexandrine, which is a source of consternation for Zola, who loves them both. His published works finally provide his small family --- Alexandrine cannot have children --- with a lovely home for the three of them filled with books and antiques in Medan.
Cézanne has a son with Hortense (Déborah Francois), another of his models whom he refuses to marry for many years. Theirs is not the contented companionship shared by Zola and Alexandrine. Cézanne treats Hortense poorly, spending a great deal of time away form her in his studio.
A visit by Cézanne and Hortense to Zola's home in Medan does not go well, further straining the two friends' already tenuous relationship. Zola has published "The Masterpiece" in which he draws upon his closeness with Cézanne over the years, taking liberties with the truth. Cézanne objects strenuously to Zola's portrayal of him --- the beginning of the end of their many years together.
A new arrival in the Zola household, Jeanne (Freya Mavor), the young laundress, catches the eye of both Zola and Cézanne. Before Cézanne and Hortense depart, he tells Zola to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. Years later, when Zola returns to Provence, it is Jeanne who is by Zola's side with two small children. Cézanne rushes to reconnect with his former best friend, but it is not to be.
"Cézanne et Moi" is one of the most beautiful films in recent memory. It so reminds me of "Jean de Florette" (1986) and "Manon of the Spring" (1986), two of my favorite films of all time. I happen to love French films best --- "Diva" (1981) is another of my favs. "Cézanne et Moi" has all of the right components to make it a classic.
Writer/director Daniéle Thompson's ("Avenue Montaigne", 2006) long- time passion for the little-known story of Paul Cézanne's and Emile Zola's broken friendship has finally come to fruition after 15 years. Originally Thompson had wanted Gallienne to play Zola, but he was adamant about being given the role of Cézanne, because Cézanne was more of a madman.
Gallienne studied painting with one of Thompson's friends, artist Gérard Traquandi, and learned the Aix accent to perfect his portrayal of Cézanne. And it pays off beautifully. Canet was drawn to "Cézanne et Moi" by Thompson's well-written screenplay, which I agree is superb. He and Gallienne have known each other for years, though not close friends, it helped them both in their performances here as Zola and Cézanne.
Shot on many real locations like Zola's actual garden at Medan and Cézanne's father's home at Jas de Bouffan, "Cézanne et Moi" is strikingly gorgeous. The cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou is mesmerizing and so utterly calming, along with the exquisite original soundtrack by Eric Neveux. I simply cannot recommend this film enough --- it is a rare treat!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
"Cézanne et Moi" is a beautiful film in every respect --- acting, music, cinematography --- and an intriguing story about the turbulent friendship between two 19th century French artisans. Paul Cézanne was a painter and Emile Zola was a writer. Writer/director Daniéle Thompson, who was Oscar-nominated in 1975 for her screenplay of "Cousin Cousine", spent an excruciatingly long time researching her subjects. The level of detail she brings to the screen imparts an extraordinarily deep understanding of these two giants.
Of the two men, Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) was ridiculed by his contemporaries for the impressionist style of his works, but he had the ultimate satisfaction, at least posthumously. At the end of the film, we learn the stunning revelation that over 1000 of his paintings are now hanging in museums globally. But, unfortunately, he never lived to know it. Interestingly, the marketing poster for this film has the movie title in an impressionist font.
Zola (Guillaume Canet), meanwhile, achieved success early and often with his writing. As seen in the film, Zola became the emphatic opposite of Cézanne, in his dress, his thinking and his general demeanor. Canet jumped at the chance to play Zola after reading the script, and he is the perfect foil for Gallienne's rough edges. It is his character who ultimately decides that their friendship is not sustainable. And despite their closeness, Cézanne was always envious of his best friend Zola's successes.
Many of you may know by now that Jeanne is a huge fan of period pieces, especially European ones. I am pleased to report that "Cézanne et Moi" is in the mold of classic French period pieces like "Jean de Florette", and its companion film "Manon of the Spring".
Of course, "Cézanne et Moi" is subtitled, and the rapidity of the dialogue is not always easy to follow when moviegoers are attempting to capture the magnificence of everything that is unfolding on the screen. That alone makes this movie a candidate for a second viewing.
Opinion: See It Now!