The complex historically-true friendship/rivalry between author Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and painter Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) offers plenty of opportunity for detailed character study—something along the lines of a two-man stage play. But writer/director Danièle Thompson keeps playing the same one note for two hours, within a structure that doesn’t allow for any dramatic momentum. The story opens in 1888, before flashing back to young Zola and Cézanne meeting as schoolboys in 1852 Provence, and then weaving back and forth across time as they compete for success and (occasionally) women. The most compelling component of their friendship involves the reversal of their fortunes—Cézanne raised in wealth but struggling in his own career, while Zola transcends his humble upbringing to become hugely popular. That tension is exposed pretty early on, however, leaving merely repeated variations on the same argument between them, heightened by Cézanne’s anger over becoming a thinly-disguised character in one of Zola’s novels. Thompson’s determination to plod dutifully through 40 years of their relationship ignores the fact that the job of a dramatist is not the same as the job of a biographer.
Director: Danièle Thompson
Producer: Albert Koski and Michel Schmidt
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Déborah François, Sabine Azéma, Gérard Meylan, Pierre Yvon, Hugo Fernandes and Lucien Belves