As the two men got older, their careers diverged. Zola found early success with his essays, and later with novels, though he spent his later years afraid his talents had peaked too young. Cézanne was rejected by the establishment art salons and was regularly running out of money — relying on his wealthy father (Gérard Meylan) and, later, Zola's generosity.
Years later, tensions grew between the two when Zola wrote "The Masterpiece," a novel about a temperamental artist — one modeled after Cézanne, though Zola admits some of the character's worst qualities came from the author himself.
Thompson lets the two Guillaumes loose with meaty conversations, where they argue about life and art and the intersection between the two. The performances are nicely matched, with Gallienne's blustering Cézanne pairing with Canet's more introspective Zola.
The way both artists treat the women is atrocious. Zola is chilly to his wife, Alexandrine (Alice Pol) — one of the women Cezanne wooed first — while lusting after a young servant, Jeanne (Freya Mavor). Cézanne keeps time with Hortense (Deborah François), his lover and model, but she complains that he'd rather love his painted image of her than the real thing.
The fact that Thompson ("Avenue Montaigne") doesn't comment on the mistreatment of these women, and implicitly waves off the artists' casual sexism, is the one major blemish on "Cézanne and I." Alas, it keeps an interesting movie from being a truly great one.