Set in the Pyrenees in 1943, during WW2, it tells the story of an ageing artist, Marc Cros, who has not created anything since the beginning of the war. A chance encounter by his wife during a visit to town introduces her to a very attractive homeless young woman, Mercè. She offers her accommodation and keep on the understanding that she poses dénudé as a model for her husband.
She hesitantly agrees and is taken to his studio in the mountains, where she sees female sculptures and sketches. Marc tells her to undress, as if it was something quite natural for her to do, which it wasn't. And so begins Marc's quest to find that special spark that will allow him to create his 'ideal' form.
This is fundamentally a study of the relationship between Marc and Mercè, as the title of the film suggests. It starts as a typical artist/model situation, with him seeing her body as inspiration for his work and nothing more. But as time passes his feelings clearly become more emotional, to his embarrassment. But Mercè also develops feelings towards him.
There are diversions in the form of peeping Tom children, an injured resistance fighter, and a visiting German officer who is a good friend of Marc, being devoted to his art. But at its heart this is the story of Marc and Mercè.
At an early point Marc's wife, Lèa, asks if Mercè's body is a beautiful as hers was when she was younger, when she was Marc's model. Marc replies that nobody could be as beautiful as she was, which considering that Léa is played by Claudia Cardninale was, I thought, an interesting 'joke' for those of us old enough to remember Claudia Cardinale as a young woman.
Reviews have been mixed but I enjoyed this film, especially the vivid monochrome cinematography. There is a great deal of nudity but it doesn't come across as overtly sexual.