There’s a hint of a compelling movie in Danièle Thompson’s Cézanne et Moi, but it’s overshadowed by some unfortunate storytelling choices and a whole lot of Frenchiness. The latter is not entirely unreasonable, since the movie tells the story of the lifelong friendship between two 19th-century French icons: uptight writer Emile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and free-spirited painter Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne). They have been friends since childhood, but their lives have gone in very different directions. Cézanne follows his muse, living in poverty without being able to break into the mainstream art world, while Zola becomes rich and famous writing books that are more commercial than personal. We know this because Thompson uses what distributor Magnolia describes as “a slew of flashbacks” — and the fact that “slew” is often a synonym for “avalanche” is appropriate, considering how they disrupt the narrative. Cézanne et Moi is best when it’s just the aging Zola and Cézanne in Zola’s study hashing it out and airing their grievances, scenes that suggest the picture would work well as a play if it just focused on just the two of them in that room. But then you wouldn’t have the scenes of Zola and Cézanne ogling and occasionally manhandling nubile young women — and after all, it is a French film.
Cézanne et Moi
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.