by Paula Schwartz.
Diane von Furstenberg hosted the New York premiere of “Cézanne et Moi,” Wednesday evening at the elegant new Whitby Hotel in midtown Manhattan. As you’d expect, the starry event was attended by A-listers in both fashion and art.
“Cézanne et Moi,” is a luscious period piece written and directed by veteran French filmmaker Danièle Thompson, whose 1975 film, “Cousin, Cousine” received three Academy Award nominations. Her new film chronicles the relationship of post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and novelist Emilie Zola (Guillaume Canet) over four decades.
The novelist and the painter had very different backgrounds. Cézanne grew up in a wealthy home but eventually rejected the bourgeois life of his family to focus on his painting. Later in life he became somewhat of a recluse. Zola came from poverty but found success and wealth early in his career and had a complicated and enjoyable domestic arrangement with two beautiful women. Zola achieved fame and prosperity in his lifetime while Cézanne’s recognition as a great artist came only after his death.
In introductory remarks before the screening, Ms. von Furstenberg told the guests: “The film is so beautiful and we know it’s about Cézanne and Zola, but really the movie IS a Cézanne, this is how beautiful it is. And the screenwriter and director is the most talent storyteller you can ever find. And I know that because she’s been telling me stories for 40 years and this is really a masterpiece.”
Ms. Thompson, joined by her star, Guillaume Gallienne, told the audience she shot in the places the artists frequented and in which they grew up. The stone house we see where Canet as Zola writes and lives is Zola’s actual house in Aix-en-Province.
Mr. Gallienne added that it “was like a dream” to see the film screened in New York for the first time, telling the audience: “I hope you’ll get sloshed afterwards.”
Earlier on the red carpet I asked the director what it was about this story of Zola and Cézanne and their friendship that compelled her to make it the subject of a film. “I thought it was an incredible moment in the 60’s of the previous century, which actually looked a little bit like the 60’s in our century, with the same sense of freedom and revolution,” Ms.Thompson told me. “The youth really tried to blow up the bourgeois feelings and the establishment and this kind of thing and suddenly there was the fact that these two little boys in this tiny town in the south of France had become huge figures for a French country, two monuments in the 19th-Century. I was very intrigued by this and especially by the fact that they kept this friendship so long and yet broke up. Why did they break up? What happened? This intrigued me.”
Sadly the other Guillaume was not in attendance, possibly because his longtime companion, Marion Cotillard, is expecting their second child.
Mr. Gallienne was more than accommodating and charming on the red carpet and spoke fluent English, tinged with a slight British accent. He is also fluent in Spanish and after speaking with me chatted away with the journalist from Venezuela in her language.
Of his collaboration with Ms. Thompson he told me: “It was great because we understand each other very quickly. We have many references in common actually and with Danièle I had the feeling of being very free. She’s worked lots before, with the costume designers and production designers, and so the whole ambience, the whole atmosphere created is one of freedom, and when we arrived on set she just tells in a few words the situation, a physical situation, and then it’s, ‘Okay, let’s go!’ She’s not going to say, ‘I want you very angry in that scene.”
Would he would describe the relationship between Zola and Cézanne as a bromance I asked? “It’s based on friendship and the different levels of it. They were nearly like brothers. Yes, why not a bromance?” replied Mr. Gallienne, smiling.
“They have a falling out after 35 years of great friendship, but it’s funny to see how they managed to remain friends for 35 years because, god, they were so different,” said Mr. Gallienne.
What was most challenging about playing the volatile painter?: “He gets very angry in a large way. And at the same time the challenge was how to be touching, a touching pain in the ass.”