In the summer of 1943, with France under Nazi rule, Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) is preoccupied with a private frustration. After years of failed projects, the octogenarian sculptor finds unexpected salvation in the form of Mercè (Aida Folch), a Spanish political refugee brought home by his wife, Léa (Claudia Cardinale). Offered shelter in exchange for serving as Marc’s nude model, rough-around-the-edges Mercè learns to love being a muse by day, while secretly shuttling resistance fighters across the border by night. Meanwhile, Marc is an artist fleetingly reborn, alternately agitated by and enamored with Mercè’s youth and unaffected beauty.
While veteran director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) and writer Jean-Claude Carrière don’t bring much novelty to the May-December/muse-artist/naked-clothed cliché, they do imbue the material with genuine feeling—exploring the melancholy of waning days and a defiantly naive belief in artistic transcendence. And while Rochefort and Folch never quite establish a torrid rapport, cinematographer Daniel Vilar’s black-and-white imagery serves as a provocative bridge, capturing the old man’s seductive attentions, and the young woman’s exquisite, sculpture-in-waiting form.
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