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Cézanne and Zola: turbulent but lasting bond

The troubled friendship between two famous sons of France, Paul Cézanne and Émile Zola, is the subject of the French film Cézanne et moi (Meine Zeit mit Cézanne in German). The biopic follows encounters between the two in different places in France in the 19th century.

The film takes us through the beautiful landscapes of Provence, where Cézanne the painter and Zola the writer first met, while they were at school. Paris, with its bohemian life, also serves as background for the film. A cold, rainy, gloomy Paris contrasts with sunny, pleasant southern France, with its open blue skies and green pine trees.

The quiet Zola, son of a poor seamstress, and the explosive, rich Cézanne, will compete for the heart of the same woman, whom each will call by a different name. The beautiful Alexandrine will marry Zola, but always remain Gabrielle for Cézanne, who will never stop admiring her.

Over the course of the years, things will change. Cézanne won’t be the one financially supporting Zola, but the other way around. Zola will become famous thanks to his books, whereas the difficult Cézanne will often destroy his works and, being always aggressive and undiplomatic, won’t be able to sell them.

However, the friendship, the love, the admiration between Cézanne and Zola will survive every storm.

One doesn’t need to be acquainted with the work of Cézanne or with the writings of Zola to enjoy this movie. It does help, however, to know something about the political and cultural frame of their times.

An array of names and faces parades in front of us on the screen, belonging to the Impressionist painters, all colleagues of Cézanne’s: like Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, and many others. Allusions to famous French literary figures like Mallarmé and Balzac abound too.

But what is most impressive and beautiful are those famous paintings. They come alive before our eyes, with their incredible colours and shapes, reminding us that their models were real people once, who had felt love, hatred, passion, like every other human being.

The film is a real work of art, thanks to the work of director Danièle Thompson, the protagonists Guillaume Canet (Zola) and Guillaume Gallienne (Cézanne), and all others who contributed to its creation.

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