A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Some movies are worlds that we can sink into, and "La Belle Noiseuse" is one of them. It is a four-hour movie, but not one second too long, in which the process of art and the process of life come into a fascinating conflict. There is something fundamentally sensual about the relationship between an artist and a model, not because of the nudity and other superficial things which are obvious, but because the artist is trying to capture something intimate and secret from another person, and put it on the canvas. It is possible to have sex with someone and not know them, but it is impossible to draw them well, and not know them well.
The movie is about an artist in his 60s, who has not painted for many years. In his studio is an unfinished canvas, a portrait of his wife, which leans against the wall like a rebuke for the passion that has died between them. They are still happily married, but their relationship is one of understanding, not hunger. One day a young admirer brings his girlfriend to meet the artist and his wife.
Something stirs within the older man, and he asks the girl to pose for him. She agrees, indifferently, and as he begins his portrait a subtle dance of seduction begins.
To understand the dynamic, you will have to picture the actors. The artist is played by Michel Piccoli, veteran of dozens of important French movies, he of the intimidating bald forehead, the vast eyebrows, the face of an aging satyr. The young woman is played by Emmanuelle Beart ("Manon of the Spring"), whose beauty may come from heaven but whose intelligence is all her own. Watching her here, we realize that it would not have been enough simply to cast a beautiful woman in the role, for the artist is entrapped by her mind, not her appearance. The artist's wife is played by Jane Birkin (the daughter in "Daddy Nostalgia"), who knows her husband well enough to warn Beart against him, but not well enough to warn herself.