I like to watch movies about artists because Hollywood and the world cinema does these films much better than films about food. Painters and sculptors work in a visual medium, and film is visual. Food can look good, it’s true, but a picture of it doesn’t engage the other senses (taste, smell, texture).
“Inspiration,” a film from 1931 starring Greta Garbo, features her as Yvonne Valbret, a Parisian artist’s model and mistress (to middle-aged painters and sculptors). At a party, Yvonne meets André Montell (Robert Montgomery), a young student and future civil servant. Yvonne falls in love with André instantly and goes home with him. This begins an affair that lasts for months, but it interrupts her cushy life as a kept woman of wealthy artists.
I love Garbo but I sometimes have trouble understanding her, especially since the sound modulation in these early talking films can be unsatisfactory. It took several years before engineers perfected microphone placement and sound mixing. Even at MGM, where Clarence Brown directed Inspiration, some films sound better than others. Garbo possessed a special way of relating and saying things, so I want to hear everything she says and not hear the hiss and loss of audio quality.
In the real world, a fascinating woman like Yvonne would not give up everything for a schlub like André, especially since he wants to drag her out of Paris and into the French colonies as his wife. Presumably, the artists in this film represent the French academy’s best. They’re rich and cynical, but Yvonne seems happy at the beginning of the film. All her troubles start when she meets André.