Cézanne et Moi offers a view of a friendship that spanned nearly a lifetime. It’s the story of the bond formed in an Aix-en-Provence childhood between two great artists of the late 19th century, painter Paul Cézanne and writer Émile Zola. Surprisingly devoid of paintings and writing, it’s mostly about the men’s relationship. There are warm moments you recognize as signs of a deep friendship but also painful scenes of betrayal. Not terribly deep, it’s an entertaining trip through the Paris art world as the world is leaving behind the Impressionists, as seen by one of the great post-Impressionists whose work was not yet recognized for its greatness and a writer on the rise.

Cezanne was born to a wealthy family and never had to suffer monetarily for his art, though that never stopped him from self-doubt and a life of drunken debauchery. Zola on the other hand was born to Italian immigrants and was brought up by a single mother. But they were drawn together as kids and, despite their class differences, remained central in one another’s lives. Zola’s success allowed him to move into a mansion with his beautiful wife (formerly one of Cézanne’s many women.) But Cézanne, despite his family wealth, led a peripatetic life, often moving from Paris to Aix-en-Provence and back to Paris and many other assorted locales. But through it all he and Zola found time to visit one another. That is, up until an episode that caused a permanent estrangement in middle age. From the film, that break-up seemed to have been harder on Cézanne, but then that is the theme of the movie. Great painter, difficult with relationships.

Is is a great movie? No. I think the story is enticing, but I really wanted to see some art, or hear some prose or poetry, since we’re talking about important artists. The bits about hanging out with Monet and the other greats and the power of the Paris Salon might have had a bit more time, too. But the actors were both very good, and it is beautifully shot, and didn’t lag for me. So I say go if you’re looking for a pleasant film in French with beautiful locations and heartwarming/breaking scenes of a friendship.

One thought on “Cézanne et Moi”
  1. I (Mainstream Chick) generally agree with Arty’s assessment on this one. I was drawn in by the story (no pun intended) and remained engaged – which isn’t often the case for me where arty foreign films are concerned! Cezanne et Moi is a fairly easy watch that will likely appeal to art history buffs and fans of (the far more mainstream) Midnight in Paris. The film is good – not great – and definitely at its best when Paul and Emile are seen struggling over their fractured friendship. It is also beautifully shot – and while we don’t see many paintings, the people and the scenery itself represents art coming to life. I was intrigued enough to look up more about Cezanne and Zola’s lives to see what was fact and what fictionalized for dramatic effect. Total side note: the lead actors – who are both excellent, by the way – are named ‘Guillaume’! That must have made for some interesting challenges on set!

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