The Artist and the Model

Shot in stately black and white, as if overeager to mitigate any hint of prurience, Fernando Trueba’s period drama still is a movie about an old man gazing at the bare body of a young woman — for artistic reasons, you understand. One summer, in some rustic rural corner of occupied France, an elderly sculptor (Jean Rochefort) finds his inspiration on the wane. Supportively, his wife (Claudia Cardinale) brings home a voluptuous young Spanish refugee (Aida Folch) to help him out. This muse-elect has no experience being a model, but the sculptor makes do. He also makes the girl’s aesthetic education a secondary project. “Observe the tenderness of the scene,” he says, schooling her on how to appreciate a Rembrandt sketch, and giving a mildly irksome sense of Trueba talking directly, and down, to the audience. While being told what to look at, and how, it’s hard not to notice also that the war’s encroachments register here in only the most perfunctory ways; the sculptor, an apolitical curmudgeon, seems mostly concerned with life already being too short to achieve his own creative fulfillment. Fair enough, perhaps, for his sensual curiosity does at least seem genuine. Falling short of its own high standards for artfulness, this is hardly the most profound film ever made about beauty and mortality, but its scenes do contain some tenderness, and pulchritude, worth observing.