The drawing and painting sequences are nice. And, most of all, the way Emmanuelle Béart's body is filmed is gorgeous. The long sequences in which we don't see her body, just the painter's look or his pen and ink scratching gesture and sound are wonderful. In the absence of the human figure, our imagination completes the missing image. Most* of the rest, the concepts about art, the tormented artist, is quite absurd.
Art and painting in specific is faced by Rivette with the same metaphysical sense one can discern in Oscar Wilde: art is capable of truly representing life to the point of revealing completely the objects it represents. Therefore the painting of a model can reveal enough about her to destroy her, if the painting itself isn't destroyed first (that's basically why Dorian Gray destroys his picture in Wilde's classic).
Never has a film felt this intimate... the characters never hit a false note and the relationship between the model and painter is real, credit the genius Jacques Rivette for all of this- it is a masterpiece!
Having very recently seen Rivette's "L'amour fou", his epic 4 hour film about the relationship between life and art (theater), his "La belle noiseuse" was a perfect companion piece. Again, it is a 4 hour film about the relationship between life and art (this time painting), and Rivette's attention to every detail in the process of making an empty canvas come alive, is breathtaking. Loved every minute of it!
A nice account of the genesis of a masterpiece, that also idealizes the beauty, the difficulty and the hard work behind the artistic creation. The purest emotions here do not come from the camera work, but from the mood, the bond between the characters and from "what is going to appear on the canvas". Piccoli is superb, and Morandini's view of the painter as a metaphor for the film-director is IMHO well-fitting.
Yes it is long, pretentious, artsy, and French. And yes you do watch a guy draw and paint for extended periods of time. But it's so hypnotic, for four hours I sat glued to my seat while the film held my rapt attention. I've never seen anything quite like it, it's just so... magical.