Cézanne et Moi (3 stars)

Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Gallienne are at the centre of a somewhat superficial biopic

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Cézanne et Moi

French cinema's fondness for biopics of some of the country's greatest artists (Renoir, Camille Claudel 1915, the forthcoming Rodin) shows little sign of abating. The lifelong friendship between painter Paul Cézanne and writer Emile Zola forms the basis of Cézanne et Moi, a picturesque period drama from Danièle Thompson (best known as the screenwriter of La Reine Margot) that is more soap opera than serious drama.

In 1888, Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) confronts Zola (Guillaume Canet) about a novel in which the central character of an ambitious but unsuccessful painter seems too close to home. The film then constantly flits backwards and forwards in time to depict a friendship that starts during an idyllic childhood in Aix-en-Provence and endures into old age.

Zola becomes one of the most acclaimed writers of his time, whilst Cézanne remains an eternally aggrieved outsider never gaining the respect of his peers or the art establishment. They seem to constantly meet heading in opposite directions as the film offers a succession of prickly reunions, where every declaration of undying admiration is balanced by an intense rivalry over the women they love and the eminence they achieve. As age unfolds, it is a relationship that survives on the nostalgic glow of shared memories rather than any fresh encounters. A weary Zola explains the rupture in their friendship by observing: 'It was like visiting a head of state, so I stopped going.'

Cézanne et Moi is inevitably sketchy and superficial but solid enough in its sun-kissed locations and meticulous production design. It mostly plays like a two-hander that could have worked just as effectively on stage. The lead actors are both accomplished but sometimes seem to be locked in a battle of facial hair, with the passing years marked by greying locks, fussy beards and receding hairlines that never look entirely convincing.

Limited release from Fri 14 Apr.

Cézanne et Moi

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • France
  • 116 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Danièle Thompson
  • Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Deborah Francois
  • UK release: 14 April 2017

The story of the lifelong friendship between painter Paul Cézanne (Gallienne) and Emile Zola (Canet), who share an idyllic childhood in Aix-en-Provence before Zola becomes an acclaimed writer and Cézanne an eternally aggrieved bu unsuccessful painter. Sketchy and superficial but with nice production design; still more…

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