Fallow and unproductive for almost ten years, 60-year-old painter Edouard Frenhofer (Piccoli) lives in the French countryside with his wife and muse, Liz (Birkin), though his last major work-a nude study of Liz entitled "The Beautiful Nuisance"-lies unfinished. When he confides to protegé Nicholas (David Burzstein) that his career has finally come to an end, the young man suggests that Edouard ask his gorgeous girlfriend Marianne (Beart) to model. Edouard agrees, and thus begins an intensely intimate, often contentious working relationship.
Rivette's extraordinary drama about a famous artist who feels his well of talent has dried up examines the mysteries and passions that attend the artistic process, and the obsessive intimacy that often develops between painter and model. In a role that demanded a solid, mature, weighty presence, Piccoli is magnificent as Edouard, while Beart is simply ravishing in an equally demanding, robust performance. Expertly and patiently directed by Rivette, who hones in on the mundane details of creating a masterly artwork — the painstaking applications of ink and oil, the methodical refinement of technique — "La Belle Noiseuse" is, quite simply, an enthralling experience. (If a four-hour viewing time deters you, by all means watch it in two parts.)