Art comes in many forms. Most often, we associate the word “art” with a painting. Most art museums that I have visited are filled with paintings and drawings. Other people may argue that the word “art” can apply to music, theater and even writing. I’m not disagreeing with that interpretation of the word, but I feel as if one embodiment of the word “art” has almost completely left the world we live in today. That embodiment would be sculptures.
I’ve grown up in a generation that barely fancies paintings, let alone practically considering them works of art. I, for one, love some types of paintings, but I know they’re not for everyone. However, I’ve always noticed that statues and sculptures are becoming more scarce in the world we live in today. This is a sad thing, because most people will never get the chance to go see the Statue of David or the The Thinker. If people can’t afford to travel to go see these masterpieces, they might not understand why the countless hours that these famous sculptors put into their works make them masterpieces.
The Artist and the Model first introduces us to an older man living in the French countryside in the year 1943. This man, Marc (Jean Rochefort) was once and still is a famous sculptor who has since gone into retirement. He lives with his wife, Lea (Claudia Cardinale), and his mother/mother-in-law (isn’t specified) Maria (Chus Lampreave). As most men eventually feel after they retire, Marc is longing to sculpt again, but only if the model is just right.
Fortunately for Marc, a young girl by the name of Merce (Aida Folch) wanders on to their land after fleeing from Spain. She’s battered and bruised and is looking for a place to stay. In exchange for a bed and food in Marc’s workshop, Merce agrees to model for him and help him rekindle his passion for art. Like most may react at first, Merce is skeptical and afraid to strip down and stand still for a long period of time as someone else is watching her. Eventually, through some slight humor and a deeper understanding of what art really means, Merce begins modeling for Marc everyday.
By day, we see Merce become more comfortable with her body, as she is mostly naked for the entirety of this film. However, it’s not a nakedness that objectifies her or one that is there to entice the audience. Her body is displayed as a work of God’s art and is one that is used to inspire a new piece of art. Marc holds strongly that God exists, because he put all the finest details into creating women and in making the definition of true beauty. Also, they have Olive Oil, so that’s why God is real too.
Midway through the story, as Merce was taking one of her late night strolls, she encounters a man named Pierre (Martin Gamet) who is burying the bodies of enemy soldiers. He’s injured and on the run, just as Merce is, and is looking for a place to hide out. Merce brings him back to the workshop and cares for him, until Marc discovers that he is there. Before he can fully understand Pierre’s story, a German vehicle pulls up to the workshop and a man named Werner (Gotz Otto) enters. Within 10 minutes, Werner explains his affinity for Marc’s work and unveils to Marc that he is secretly making a book on the works of art that Marc has made. Although he is risking his own life doing this, Werner can’t get over the connection he has to the art and that’s what makes it worth it to him.
The remainder of the film explores more of what art should be interpreted as and how people misinterpret it and shrug it off everyday. In one great scene, Marc has Merce view a drawing done by Rembrandt. At first, she sees a penciled out sketch of a family and nothing more. Marc then takes several minutes to deconstruct all the emotion and meaning behind each detail of the drawing and Merce finally begins to look at what she is doing in a new light.
It’s scenes like that or like the ones with little boys trying to spot a naked woman, that really exemplify how we can too hastily look at something without taking the time to understand it for what it really is. This whole film is about Marc rediscovering his passion for sculpting, while also teaching a great lesson to Merce. To him, he doesn’t see a woman showing off her naked body. He admires her body for its flaws and its true beauty, which gives him the need to emulate that into another work of art.
As I watched the film and began to get invested in it, I didn’t view Merce as “just another actress trying to get attention for being naked”. Everything that she represents with her performance is a calling to the art and understanding of older times. Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to look past her being naked for most of the film, but those who do will find that it serves a larger purpose and helps tell a better story.
This film, however isn’t without artistic flaws, as it runs a bit too long and is often full of dead air moments. The supporting cast isn’t as involved as they could be, but then again, this is the story of The Artist and the Model. Not too much time is spent on exploring Merce’s background in Spain and how she managed to escape Spain and I think, had they explored that, the film would have had another interesting layer to it. The film is in Black and White (perhaps to save money), but I can’t help but think that color would have really enhanced the picturesque French Countryside that was tied to all this beautiful art.
As a whole, The Artist and the Model is a pretty good film. It has many highs and a few lows. Jean Rochefort and Aida Folch work incredibly well together and they help tell a very interesting story. The deeper meaning of the film is far more enlightening than the film and is something that you’ll be happy to take away with you. I gained more of an appreciation to art, in every sense of the word. I also gained a lot more respect to these sculptors who devote countless hours into creating works of true beauty. If anything, this film serves as a great reminder of why art is so important and why we should always take a few extra seconds to observe the world around us.
The Artist and the Model Trailer