Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cezanne and I: An Extraordinary Journey of Art and Friendship

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“Cezanne et moi” is a highly accomplished time-period film about art, love, and the friendship between two of the most significant French artists of the 19th century who reached everlasting fame, Paul Cezanne, the neglected painter, and Emile Zola, the celebrated author.
The exquisite
French production develops into an intimate biopic that recalls the lives and camaraderie of the two legendary artists. 

The nonlinear story goes back and forth from the present time to their childhood, adolescence, and the various stages of their adulthood.
The friendship between the writer and the painter begins when Emile Zola, bullied by his classmates for being a fatherless son of an Italian immigrant, meets Cezanne, the rich boy who defends him in a catholic school located in a small province of France.

Their ambitions motivated them to move from Aix-en-Provence’s quiet Mediterranean hillside town to Paris. In Montmartre and Batignolles, Inglewood, they met other emerging and well-established artists such as Monet, Renoir, Bazille, Morisot, and Cassatt.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Zola and Cezanne become roommates. They slept with the same women and fell in love with many dubious reputations. In those difficult times, the artists struggled to the brink of starvation.

Zola’s background was not French, but his writings were eloquent and descriptive. 

Fame and fortune came first for the writer, while the painter wrestled his demons. 

Cezanne hated himself so much that he destroyed some of his most valuable artwork. He was not alone; his unique, groundbreaking Impressionist style sparked negative reviews from other classic artists regardless of the approval chord struck among young art lovers.

Guillaume Gallienne (Cezanne). Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

This feature film perfectly depicts how the two friends lived in their opposite worlds, with their trials and failures. The artist followed their true passions.

Frustrated for being ignored by the Academy of Arts, Cezanne hit rock bottom. Yet, Zola always cared for his friend.

Cezanne lucidly expresses his emotions to Zola
, “I would like to paint as well as you write.” And continues, “If I live with a man I love, I should live with a woman who hates me, yes?” Then, when their friendship gets tiresome, he finishes with a sentimental note: “I can’t remember why you love me so much.”

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The prestigious Academy of Arts rated Zola’s “Germinal” and “Nana” books as vulgar and obscene. French readers had a big appetite for those stories regardless of the scandal, so his success was imminent.

Guillaume Canet (Zola). Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film does not depict Zola’s experiences in brothels, as he transcribes those into his controversial novels. A brief juxtaposition of Zola’s bacchanals illustrates the writer’s controversial life. That could be one of the reasons why this ambitious biopic got such mixed reviews in France. 

On the other hand, showing the downside of the Parisian night scene would take away much of the film’s central theme, the friendship between two great artists. 

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Actors Guillaume Gallienne (Cezanne) and Guillaume Canet (Zola) are magnificent in their respective characters; their performances are outstanding. 
 Director Daniele Thomson. Photo by Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

The film is remarkably directed and written by Daniele Thomson (“Avenue Montaigne,” “It Happened in Saint-Tropez/Des Gens Qui s’embrassent”). Mrs. Thomson’s years of experience in filmmaking deliver an essential and transcendental film about the lives of two of the most celebrated artists in French history.

Daniele Thomson’s style for writing comedy is subtle, sharp, and elegant. Mrs. Thomson is the Woody Allen of French Cinema.

Director Daniele Thomson and film critic Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA
Ms. Thomson’s writing style is delectable. She works on the dynamics of conversations and enlarges the dialogue to transmit the actors’ proper emotions to the audience.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The lavish photography is evocative and utterly beautiful. Legendary French cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou (“Two Brothers,” “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”) did incredible work, bringing to light those amazing visuals that vividly relate to the contrasting lives of the writer and the painter.
 Erik Neveux (film composer). Photo by Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA
The original music composed by Erik Neveux (Intimacy, The Attack) is exquisite and extraordinary. The violins, cellos, guitars, and flutes reverberate flawlessly, enhancing the mood according to the story.

The music has plenty of natural and evocative sounds that create the appropriate ambiance of the period with grace, harmony, and elegance. 

Viewers will experience a gorgeous film full of art, passion, and those beautiful moments accompanying a lifetime friendship.
The “Cezanne and I” soundtrack
Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo. 
Copyright © Festival in LA
Erik Neveux (film composer) and film critic Jose Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

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