In the midst of cruel and troubling times, people naturally tend to rely on not only the physical beauty of the world around them to gain a more positive outlook, but also the meaning in life and the internal beauty of those around them. This is the motivating and humanizing theme in the new French-language Spanish drama, ‘The Artist and the Model,’ from award-winning writer-director Fernando Trueba. The two main characters in the film, who come from different backgrounds and have drastically conflicting motivating factors, authentically come to understand each other’s struggles and will to survive after forming an unexpected relationship.
‘The Artist and the Model’ follows an 80-year-old sculptor, Marc Cross (Jean Rochefort), who’s searching for inspiration to make one final masterpiece. He has devoted his life and work to the pursuit of beauty, with his subject matter always being the female body. He lives isolated from the world in German-occupied France in 1943, with World War II leading him to leave his nostalgia and hope behind.
In the midst of the troubling times, Marc finally finds inspiration for his last masterpiece when his wife, Léa (Claudia Cardinale), brings home a troubled young Spanish girl, Mercé (Aida Folch). Having escaped an Algers refugee camp, Mercé is looking for not only an asylum, but also someone who will help reconnect her with the pleasures in life.
Fernando and Folch generously took the time recently to sit down for an exclusive interview to talk about filming ‘The Artist and the Model’ together. Among other things, the director and actress discussed the importance of art in everyone’s life, and shows how through the help of his new young model, Marc finds new faith in his existence; how Trueba has seen himself as a writer-director since his first movie, and how he continuously changes his scripts through the filming and editing processes; and how Folch felt comfortable playing the role of Mercè,as Trueba always made her feel comfortable and respected on the set, especially while they were filming her nude scenes.
ShockYa (SY): Fernando, you co-wrote the script for ‘The Artist and the Model’ with Jean-Claude Carrière. Where did come up with the idea for the story, and how did you two come together to pen the screenplay together?
Fernando Trueba (FT): I started thinking of the story in the ’90s. But I didn’t write the story immediately-it was just the opposite, as I waited for years. I let the story and characters grow in my mind.
When I first started thinking of the story, I thought I was too young to make it, and understand the characters. The main character (Marc) is 80-years-old in the story. For many years, I was saying to myself, let me do another movie first, and then write ‘The Artist and the Model.’ Then I kept finding another one to work on. But it was better that way, because the older I am, the better it is for the movie.
Then I said, “Okay, I’m old enough, let’s do it. Don’t play with that, not anymore.” But that was something I needed to make. We directors say this type of things many times, but in this case, it was a real need.
The story talks about how life and art relate to each other. It’s about an old man who’s waiting for death, and doesn’t expect anything more from life. It’s also about how life blossoms. It shows how an artist doesn’t believe in art anymore, because he’s seeing another war, and he thinks, what’s the purpose of working and doing anymore art?
Then with the help of this young model, he finds new faith in life. He’s going to go back to his studio and he’s going to work again. The movie’s about how in the war and darkest experiences, we need art, stories, paintings and movies. We need music to help us carry on. The arts help us understand the meaning of life. It’s not just to entertain us; in a rich way, it also makes us more human and to better understand each other and what’s going on.
I think life most of the time is absurd and without purpose. With books and movies, we try to understand something about life. So the movie is about all this, and how art is at the central part of all our lives, not just of artists. So I had the need to talk about this, and not just of making another movie. I had the need of making this particular movie, which dealt with these kinds of things.
At the same time, I was afraid to be pretentious. I wanted to talk about art in big capital letters. This part of art is more material of the solitude of the work in a studio, and the silence between the artist and the model. They’re working apart from the rest of the world, like on an island. At the same time, how this man, who pretends to be cut off from the world, life always interferes. You can never completely close the window. There’s always some air coming through.’
SY: Besides writing the script, you also directed ‘The Artist and the Model.’ How did penning the script help you in your directorial duties while you were shooting the film?
FT: Well, I see it as three things; first you write the script, then you write with a camera and then you re-write it in the editing room. I’m writing all the time with different technology.
I’m not a director-director; I’m a writer-director since my very first movie. I always write the screenplays. The directors who have been my models have always been writer-directors, and I belong to that group. There are some who are more directors than writers, and some are more writers than directors. I always find myself to be 50-50. I never feel more one thing than the other.
SY: Aida, you play Mercè in the drama, a young Spanish girl who escapes a refugee camp in the South of France. What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
Aida Folch (AF): Well, my character may be the antagonist, and there are many different things between Mercè and Marc. For example, she’s Spanish and he’s French. She’s not interested in art. She’s also involved in politics and he’s not, because he’s tired of the war and doesn’t want to fight. I think my character brings the other visions of life, and he learns about her, and she learns from him.
SY: Jean Rochefort plays Marc and Claudia Cardinale portrays his wife, Léa Cros. What were your working relationship with them like while you were filming?
AF: It was very nice and fun. For me, it was a surprise because they’re older than me, and you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with them. But with us, that wasn’t the case. Claudia was very funny and we made jokes together all the time.
FT: They were throwing things all the time, so it was like a school.
AF: Yeah, it was like a school. (laughs) With Jean, I think our relationship was very deep and special. There was also a lot of humor to it.
SY: How did you prepare for your role of Mercè-did you do any particular research before you began shooting the film?
AF: I dreamed of this film a long time ago. I practiced the walk in my house and I posed for the sculpture for the artist.
FT: We worked with a crew of artists before the movie.
AF: I also learned about the art for the film.
FT: She also learned French for the movie.
SY: Fernando, you shot the film in black-and-white. Why did you make the decision to shoot in black-and-white, instead of in color?
FT: There was no decision; it was always meant to be in black-and-white, even before I wrote it. When the first idea of this movie was born in my head, almost 20-years-ago, it was always in black-and-white. So there was never any question of making it in color. It was born like this.
SY: ‘The Artist and the Model’ was an official selection at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival, where you won the Silver Seashell for Best Director, as well as the 2013 Miami International Film Festival.
FT: You want me to tell the truth? I felt sad, because I would have changed that for the award for best actress, and would have been happier with that than best director. I feel she deserves it more than I do.
SY: What was your working relationship like while you were working on the set?
AF: Horrible. (laughs)
FT: She actually filmed her first movie with me when she was 14 (‘The Shanghai Spell’). So now we work together again, 10-years later. It was different and wonderful, but she wasn’t a girl anymore; she was a woman and actress with experience. The relationship is completely different. I love working with her, and I hope we can make more movies together.
SY: Aida, how do you feel that you’ve grown as an actress since your first film?
AF: It’s very natural. You work more and learn all the time in your movies. You learn about the cinema and photography and the art and speaking with the director. I studied dramatic art. Now, for me, it’s not about playing a game; maybe it was when I was 14. But now I want to be a good actress, and I want to work hard and do good things. It’s my life and it’s very important work, and very fun, too.
SY: How did you become comfortable in doing all the scenes in which you had to pose nude?
AF: I was comfortable because Fernando makes the atmosphere in the shooting very calm and respectful. He made me feel very calm and comfortable. Maybe if it was another director, I couldn’t have made this. But I know Fernando and work with him, and I know his vision is very elegant and not vulgar. It’s because of that that I felt comfortable.
SY: Do you have any plans to work together again on another movie?
AF: I want to be a director and an actress, and maybe I’ll call Fernando.
FT: I’m going to do an English movie so that you’ll have to fully learn English, as you did with your French.
AF: Perfect. When?
FT: Me too, I have to improve my English, because I’m bothered when I can’t correctly pronounce words. I have the opportunity to read English all the time, but I don’t have the opportunity to speak it all the time, so my reading is much better than when I speak it. So we should come and make a movie here.
AF: For me, that sounds perfect.
Written by: Karen Benardello