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Now streamable on Netflix, the 2016 film, Cezanne et Moi, by director Daniele Thompson, is a lovely period drama about childhood friends, writer Emile Zola and painter Paul Cezanne.

Cezanne, whose work hardly received recognition in his own lifetime, lives in the shadow of Zola, and yet the two need each other intensely for inspiration and encouragement. The film itself is like a 19th-century Cezannesque painting. Thompson brilliantly uses the film palette itself to draw the viewer into the painterly style of the visual artist, played in a bohemian style by Guillaume Gallienne. We also get to hear the Nobel Prize-winning words of Zola as parts of the novels are read to us. We see only very fleetingly the paintings of Cezanne.

The larger tensions between the two seem to come from Cezanne’s rejection of his privileged beginnings. The artist’s style was rejected by his banker father and their family friends. It was that style, however, that would ultimately shape the works of Matisse and Picasso years later. Much to Cezanne’s scorn, Zola, played by the more subdued actor Guillaume Canet, seems willing to adapt to the more genteel pursuits that his friend rejects, living in increased privilege and luxury, doted on by his elderly mother. Another source of conflict in the film is the relationship the two men have with Alexandrine, a model and lover of Cezanne’s who later becomes Zola’s wife. 

The long relationship comes to a crisis point when Cezanne suggests his life has become the source of Zola’s latest novel. The viewer is brought into this world of temperamental artists who rely on each other for inspiration, critique, and friendship with a high cost to both.

In French with English subtitles, this movie is sure to be enjoyed by anyone interested in art and literature. The movie is rated R because of nudity within the artistic context. (Netflix)

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