Cezanne et Moi (Cezanne and Me): Daniele Thompson’s Biopic of Painter Cezanne and Emile Zola

Cezanne et moi, a 19th-century period drama by the French writer-director Daniele Thompson starring Guillaume Canet as impressionist painter Paul Cezanne, proved a highlight at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris where Pathe showed its pre-sales.

Considered one of the most ambitious French-language films 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 Emile Zola (Guillaume Gallienne), who came from a poor background but achieved fame and prosperity as a politically-engaged novelist.

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 impressionist collection.

Starting off with Cezanne’s 1864 “The Lawyer,” the Orsay museum tour gave an idea of not only Cezanne’s evolution – from a dark “ballsy” style as he called it towards lighter still lifes and lanscapes 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 by the tour, 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 the 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 marks Thompson’s sixth feature and her first period film as a director. The screenwriter-turned-helmer is known for her satirical comedies, Avenue Montaigne with Cecile de France, Jet Lag with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno, and Change of Plans with Karin Viard and Dany Boon.

Thompson told Variety: “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.”

She added: “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 could have made the film in English but thought it was crucial to shoot it in French with French actors.

Thompson said the telling of the story of Cezanne and Zola was 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 said.

As a screenwriter, Thompson achieved 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.



Hollywood Reporter