Bonnard: Pierre et Marthe (2023)

January 10th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Martin Provost | Cast: Cécile de France, Vincent Macaigne, Stacy Martin, Anouk Grinberg, André Marcon France. 2023. 122 mins.

Seduction follows a chance meeting in the street between impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard and Marthe Boursin (aka de Meligny) who becomes his model, muse and lover in 1893 Paris.

The coup de coeur and subsequent romantic relationship is sumptuously depicted in this lyrical latest outing from Breton writer/director Martin Provost and stars Vincent Macaigne and Cecile de France as the central couple whose turbulent mutual devotion endured until their deaths in the 1940s as Bonnard’s career flourished and Marthe became a noted artist of the day.

Captivated by her beauty Bonnard immediately puts brush to canvas painting the stunned Marthe in the nude. These avant-garde canvasses would go on to cause much chuntering in the salons. But Bonnard flatly refused to make Marthe a mother thinking it too bourgeois for his artistic lifestyle. Instead he encouraged her to paint.

The couple set up home in a rambling country villa on the banks of the Seine where Marthe swims everyday until her doctor prescribes hot baths for her asthma. Close friends Monet (Andre Marcon) and Vuillard (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) visit frequently. There’s a great deal of nude frolicking, the agile camera chasing after the passionate characters who live a life of artistic abandon in the sumptuous rural setting where summer never seems to cease in Guillaume Schiffman’s gorgeous camerawork. An incessant violin score is occasionally overbearing.

Despite her poor health, not helped by Bonnard’s infidelity with various women (played gamely by Stacy Martin as the unstable Renee Monchaty) and Anouk Grinberg as Misia Sert, his hard-edged and condescending patron), Marthe emerges the stronger more fleshed-out chactacter of the two, her fébrile intensity contrasting with Bonnard’s phlegmatic reticence to be drawn into any kind of debate that takes him away from his easel. By his own admission he apparently lacked the courage of his convictions: a creative with feet of clay.

As you might expect from the subject matter the film often ramps up the melodrama but Provost manages the tonal shifts with style in one of the most enjoyable films of his career so far. A dab hand at portraying maverick women, his 2008 film about an edgy artist Seraphine was lauded at the Césars, and Violette (2013) takes on the complex character of Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) seen through the eyes of her close friend and mentee Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devon).

Provost somehow avoids the trap of making this biopic preachy: de France and Macaigne play a credible couple whose deep love for each other feels real despite his philandering during which he maintains a low profile while everyone affected is in complete disarray. Captivating and compulsive this is a two-hour biopic worth watching. @MeredithTaylor


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