Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, the award-winning author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave, is posting for the second time–“Cezanne et Moi”– for my website. [Her first guest feature was “The Innocents” –And War” on July 16, 2016. For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog, www.desperatelyseekingParis.com, –“Cezanne and Zola”]
Cézanne et Moi portrays the troubled friendship between the Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne (played by Guillaume Gallienne) and the Nobel Prize-nominated novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet).
Young Zola is so poor he catches birds so he and his mother can eat. Cézanne, on the other hand, comes from a privileged background but is bullied by an austere and imposing father.
The biopic Cezanne et Moi traces their tumultuaous friendship from early school days to nights of debauchery and eventually to a reversal in social standing. Cézanne, disheartened by the success of the Impressionist painters, forges ahead trying to find a way forward from Impressionism to what we now know as modern art. His early efforts meet with disdain in a world still captivated by the works of the Impressionists.
Although Zola comes to his friend’s defense, Cézanne’s pride remains wounded. The arguments and jealousies increase, in part because Zola, after the publication of a few novels, has become a wealthy man. Eventually they have a falling out over Zola’s “L’Oeuvre,” a fictionalized depiction of Cézanne’s life as a loser and failed artist. When Zola’s novel met with great acclaim, Cézanne accused Zola of ‘selling out’, of siding with the bourgeoisie.
Adding more misery to their relationship is Alexandrine, Cézanne’s previous lover, who marries Zola. Years later, Cézanne, against his family’s wishes, would live for many years with another woman made famous by his paintings of ‘Madame Cezanne’. if a woman his family regarded as beneath them socially.
That these two geniuses, temperamentally 180 degrees apart, should have met and befriended one another seems improbable, and yet it happened. And the world is richer for it—if not the women who loved them and lived with them. Cezanne et Moi is a family saga with twists and turns any viewer and writer would love.