“Nature triumphs always… Beauty reveals itself in places that seem impossible: Bombed villages and budding trees, ” says the old French sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) to his friend, German military officer Werner (Gotz Otto), who is writing a book about Cros’ works. They are talking inside a beautiful mountain cottage surrounded by tall trees.
There are many scenes like this in the latest film by Fernando Trueba (award-winning director of “Belle Epoque” and “Chico & Rita”), “El Artista y La Modelo” (The Artist and the Model, 2012), produced by Cohen Media Group and presented by TVE and the Instituto Cervantes.
The film is set in the early 1940s in a small town in the south of German-occupied France during World War II. It is about an old sculptor and his young and beautiful model whose character is full of mystery.
In “The Artist and the Model,” Trueba is successful in creating visually delicious scenes while sharing through his characters insights about the relationship of nature and art. For example, in a scene where Cros is painting Merce (Aida Folch) in the middle of the forest, the sun is shining generously and the play of light and shadows envelopes the model’s naked body. The artist says to Merce, “You can’t invent this light. One must take advantage… Out here, everything moves. Even the light moves. How do you capture all that? You see all those leaves? There are millions and there are no two are alike. You could live 150 lives and barely have time to get a glimpse. That is why you need an idea. You must find your idea! If not, it’s a waste of time. That’s all. A waste.” This film is definitely Trueba’s ars poetica.
Black and white
It is during this scene when one understands the aesthetic logic in rendering the film in black and white. The ferns and the trees are greener in the audience’s eye. One is no longer a passive viewer of moving pictures. Because the film is not in color, one is forced (in a delightful way) to imagine the hues into it.
Had the film been in color, the verbal discourse about art and nature would surely be redundant and tedious. The dialogue in the original French and subtitled in English is simply beautiful. The film is written by Trueba and Jean-Claude Carriere.
Another good effect the black-and-white cinematography is to make the frontal nudity scenes (almost 90 percent of the movie) of Merce more palatable and visually acceptable to the prudish eye.
What “The Artist and the Model” is saying about the human condition is that nature and Art know no borders. This is exemplified in the relationship between Crocs and Merce. One is an old French painter and the other is a young Catalonian political refugee. They belong to different countries, but they never talk about passports, visas and immigrations. They even learn to love each other in their own special way.
There’s also the German military officer assigned in France who, back in Germany, is an art history professor; he therefore befriends Cros and writes a book about his works. Meanwhile, an American soldier parachutes with his favorite literary books in Europe and, when he dies, leaves them to his newfound comrade, a Spanish rebel who vows to take care of those books.
In the end, Merce is off to another city. Cros, after creating his masterpiece, a sculpture of a woman sitting in repose, asks his friends to bring the statue outside in the lanai. When his friends are gone, he takes his gun. He sits in front of his new work and admires its beauty. He puts the gun on his lap. Then he eats a piece of bread drenched with olive oil. He enjoys every bit of it, for, after all, he told Merce before that there are only two proofs of the existence of God: the female form and olive oil.
Another point of “The Artist and the Model” is this: The artist is like God. The big difference is that God has no beginning and no ending while the artist is simply mortal. The artist’s chance of immortality is only through his works. But artistic immortality is still not God-like for, after all, a piece of art is just material, not indestructible. In the end, everything human-made is finite. The “long” in the adage “ars longa, vita brevis” is, sadly, just like that. Long but not endless.
John Iremil E. Teodoro writes in Filipino, Kinaray-a, Hiligaynon, and English and is assistant professor of Filipino language and literature at the College of Arts and Sciences of Miriam College.