John Berger quipped, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” an observation recalled by this anachronistic picture of Fernando Trueba’s, which offers as generic a portrait of its central relationship as its title suggests. In WWII France, elderly artist Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) has seen his well of inspiration run dry. His fortunes improve when his wife (Claudia Cardinale) takes in Mercè (Aida Folch), a shapely Spanish refugee who becomes Marc’s model. Predictably, Marc and Mercè don’t initially like each other—though Marc’s admiration for Mercè’s body is apparent—yet they grow close as Mercè revives his artistic spirit. Hopelessly narcissistic, Marc finds nothing as important as his work: “I have a sculpture to finish, with or without the war,” he harrumphs. Trueba stakes much of the film’s value on Marc’s artistic sermons, which are meant to enthrall but more often insult. A set-piece speech about a Rembrandt sketch provides little insight, but much unimpeachable didacticism, as Marc declares the work beyond reproach. Mercè, however, is moved, and Trueba seems to view her relationship with Marc, in which she comes to appreciate a medium she was previously ignorant of, as a stand-in for the audience’s relationship with his film. Of course, there’s a flaw here—treating one’s audience like ignorant children in need of lecturing is hardly a way to win fans, or display one’s own artistry.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 31, 2013