GIRL ON FILM
After fleeing Catalonia amidst the chaos of The Spanish Civil War, Mercè finds herself sequestered from Franco’s army upon the streets of a quaint French town – which itself exists under the daily pervasiveness of Nazi rule. As the beautiful refugee goes about life, washing her feet in the town square fountain and resting beneath local resident’s woodworm ridden doorways, she is spotted by Lea, the wife of renowned artist Marc Cros, and offered accommodation in return for becoming a living model for the ageing sculptor.
Disillusioned by the horrors of two world wars and struggling to reignite the fires of his past unbridled artistic temperament, Cros is soon won over by the youthful spirit and natural beauty of his newfound muse. Portrayed by Aida Folch, Mercè provides the perfect leading lady to allow Cros to recapture his past enthusiasm; her rag-tag charm and wide-eyed naivety combined with her strength of character and physical allure ensure she captures not only Cros’ attention from start to finish. The fact that Mercè is nude throughout the bulk of picture, or as the Cros’ adorably honest maid puts it “bare ass”, is an unavoidable factor, raising questions of whether the faint narrative structure simply accommodates an intention on the part of Spanish director Fernando Trueba (director of Oscar-winning Belle Époque and Oscar-nominated Chico and Rita) and his leading man to stare at a beautiful naked woman. Ultimately the film only once descends into voyeuristic territory, as Cros seemingly develops romantic feelings in an otherwise deeply tender professional and friendly relationship. The nudity becomes an afterthought as Trueba playfully interacts with Mercè’s initial reservations before her posing bolsters her confidence irreversibly.
The film only loses its way when it decides to implement a stronger narrative structure. Scenes involving Mercè and a freedom fighter she shelters from the Nazis feel rushed, forsaking the otherwise strong characterisation in favour of forwarding the progression of Mercè and Cross’ journey together. That being said, the inclusion of Cross’ biographer, a Nazi officer who laments on his civilian life as a professor of art history, is an emotional and sobering passage which reminds the viewer of the overarching influence of war, whilst adding a new dimension to WW2 depictions through its isolated and distinctly human character study of the man beneath the German uniform.
The Artist and the Model is a sedate, black & white delight, which meditates on issues of mortality, youthful discovery, and the rigours of war – leaving very few grey areas due to the distinctly French forwardness of its characters. Jean Rochefort’s Cros is a wickedly funny and relatable lead to anyone who has found themselves enamoured with someone who they can ultimately never be with, whilst the cinematography of Daniel Vilar is striking and lovingly captured. All in all, that’s what The Artist and the model thrives upon, a great deal of love and emotional investment from all involved, which despite the sleepiness of its plot, will hopefully strike a memorable chord with those who give it the time it deserves.