Artists and doctors are allowed to stare at the human body for professional reasons. That’s according to “The Artist and the Model,” when a curious little boy wonders just what kind of an occupation would provide him the opportunity to ogle naked women all day, like his neighbor, the famous sculptor, does.
Take it from me, kid, “movie director” would be just as good a career choice.
That’s judging by the close attention Spanish director Fernando Trueba pays to the unclothed physique of Aida Folch, the nubile young actress who plays the titular artist’s model, Merce, in this lovely but lightweight story about a female drifter and the elderly artist who takes her in. Set in the South of France during World War II, the film pretty much revolves around Folch’s physique, which, for much of the tale, is unencumbered by clothing. Written by Trueba (with Jean-Claude Carriere), the screenplay is equally monomaniacal, with entire conversations occurring around the theme of Merce’s anatomy.
At one point, the artist Marc Cros — played with a look of penetrating and slightly grouchy scrutiny by Jean Rochefort — asserts that the naked female form is the first proof that God exists (the second being olive oil).
Be that as it may, Merce’s derriere is, at the very least, the raison d’etre for this film. Despite a minor subplot about a wounded member of the French resistance (Martin Gamet) who briefly recuperates in the artist’s picturesque studio, “The Artist and the Model” isn’t about much, other than female beauty. That theme is not exactly controversial. Chalk the tameness of the subject matter up to the period in which the film is set. The blandly pretty sculptures and sketches that Cros cranks out hardly seem to merit the admiration of his friend Werner (Gotz Otto), a German army officer and art historian who is writing a book about the sculptor.
The film’s insights about beauty are just as superficial. They amount to such commonplace observations as the fact that no two leaves are alike.
Far superior is the similarly themed French film “Renoir,” which also centered on the relationship between an elderly artist and his muse/model. Its ruminations on art, beauty, sex and death went far deeper.
Not that “The Artist and the Model,” which is shot in artsy black-and-white, isn’t good-looking. And there is one really fantastic scene, in which the two main characters are shown discussing a small reproduction of one of Rembrandt’s gesture drawings, “A child being taught to walk.” Cros’s sentiments about the drawing echo those of artist David Hockney, who has called the Rembrandt sketch “the best drawing ever made,” and who receives a “special thanks” credit at the end of the film.
It’s the one moment in “The Artist and the Model” when you might believe, if not in the existence of God, at least in the power of great art.
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains plenty of artful nudity, as well as brief sensuality, mildly crude language and an image of a corpse. In French, Spanish and German with subtitles.