Cezanne et moi
Courtesy of Pathe

PARIS– “Cezanne et moi,” a 19th-century period drama by Daniele Thompson (“Avenue Montaigne”) starring Guillaume Gallienne as post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne and Guillaume Canet as Emile Zola, proved a highlight at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris where Pathe unveiled a first batch of pre-sales.

Considered one of the most ambitious French-language films slated to come out this year, “Cezanne et moi” charts the decade-long friendship and eventual fallout between Cezanne, who was born into a wealthy family but struggled to make a living as a painter, and Zola, who came from a fa,ily of more straitened circumstances but achieved fame and prosperity as a politically-engaged novelist.

After showing a promo at the AFM, Pathe pre-sold “Cezanne et moi” to Prokino for Germany, one of the country’s key indie distributors, as well as Korea (Green Arae) and Taiwan (Joint Entertainment).

Muriel Sauzay, international sales director at Pathe, said her team is in negotiations to close other major territories such as Spain and Italy. The company will unveil a new promo for the pic at Berlin.

“Cezanne et moi” was presented at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous via an exhibition of film stills and a guided tour of the Orsay Museum’s extraordinary impressionist collection.

Sauzay said the film illustrated the merging of genre and the blurring of boundaries between what is traditionally perceived as high art and moviegoing. “Today, the people who wait in line to see the Cezanne exhibit at the museum are mostly likely cinephiles as well, and if you present them with a smart film, they will want to go see in theater.”

Starting off with Cezanne’s 1864 “The Lawyer,” the Orsay Museum tour gave an idea of Cezanne’s evolution, from a dark “ballsy” style, as he called it, towards lighter still-lifes and landscapes which searched for a harmony of tone, not realism.

The tour also pointed to Cezanne’s early-to see and radically modern genius that not even Zola really comprehended. Of the paintings taken in, for instance, the broken composition of village landscape “The Hanged Man’s House,” one of three paintings Cezanne placed in the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874, just as perspective in the 1895 portrait “Gustave Geffrey” seem already to anticipate Cubism. Yet they miffed contemporary critics. Of his fellow painters, only Camille Pissarro, who taught him, and Degas appreciated his genius, the tour guide said, standing by 1870’s “Bathers,” a dreamlike reworking of Manet’s monumental 1863 “The Luncheon on the Grass,” just a few yards away at the Orsay.

“Cezanne et moi,” which is produced by Albert Koski, marks Thompson’s sixth feature and her first period film as a director. The screenwriter-turned-helmer is best known for her satirical comedies, notably “Avenue Montaigne” with Cecile de France, “Jet Lag” with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno and “Change of Plans” with Karin Viard and Dany Boon.

“It’s a story I had been thinking on-and-off about for the last 10 years. I once read in an art magazine that Cezanne and Zola bonded when they were children and had a long friendship which ended up with a clash, so I started reading more and more about them. I sensed there was an interesting story to be told and the more I researched, the more I realized we only knew those two artists superficially,” Thompson told Variety.

Added Thompson, “The movie sheds light on their friendship, on the reasons why they adored each other and what caused them to put a term to this relationship when they were 48 and 49 years old.”

The director admitted that she could have made the film in English but thought it was crucial to shoot it in French with French actors. Thompson also said she made a point of telling the story of Cezanne and Zola in a modern way. “When we read Zola we are encouraged to do so because his language was very free to say the least,” Thompson quipped.

As a screenwriter, Thompson achieved great success with period movies such as “La Reine Margot” but as a helmer she had up until now favored contemporary movies.

“I loved the experience of directing a period. I’ve been ‘living’ in the 19th century for the last three years and I discovered so many marvelous stories,” noted Thompson.

Pathe will release “Cezanne et moi” in France on Sept.21.

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