Whereas the original version emphazised the painful serach for inspiration by contemplating the entire artistic process between painter and model, this shortened, "commercial" version narrows it down towards a clearer dramatic line, which allows Birkin's role to stand out as a main character in her own right, while reducing the rest of the cast's impact to smithereens.
In this re-cut of the original version all imponderability faded and what was interesting is diluted by a compression of the act of painting -of its possibility of danger and disruption-, mainly focused in the fiction and the relationships between the characters, especially Béart, the most stereotyped of them all. In the best moments, evokes the spatial plasticity of "L'Amour par Terre" and its adventurous narration.
I honestly couldn't recall what was missing from the long version except, vaguely, that there are fewer painting scenes. This one certainly goes at a brisker pace. Both excellent, but this is the one for those who find LA BELLE NOISEUSE's length intimidating.
I didn't watch the long version so I cannot compare. Old, famous and uninspired painter archetype looking to resurrect his moldy artist aura by studying his protege's girlfriend's naked body. Everybody is trying to take major parts in the creation of one big fallacy of a painting. Jane Birkin is trying to do taxidermy while being jelly. Her role somehow makes me think of her life with Gainsbourg and sigh with pity.
Surrounded by crickets and distant church bells, an old painter and his young model embody the artistic process as an encounter with the total Other, through an act of self-emptying and nudity. What is most important though, is this unspeakable silent presence of Jane Birkin, who knows everything, understands everything.