A roguish old painter (played in the movie version by Laurence Olivier- which is exactly right) is living in a Breton forest with his two handmaids. A young painter wangles a visit, falls for one of the girls- who is sex slave, priestess of the mysteries, aspiring artist and sleeping princess- and is faced with a life-changing choice- does he fuck her and face the very considerable consequences or chicken out and condemn himself to a life of well-regarded mediocrity? Yeah, very 1970s. Dig the woozy hippy aesthetic, hate the sexual politics. The girl wants saving from her predicament- so why can't she save herself? All she has to do is drive into Rennes and catch a train.
The set-up is mythic, but the people are vivid and plausible and I'm still turning over the issues my head. Is it true that you have to be a self-centred bastard to be a great artist? Is common decency not also something to be striven for and an heroic state if achieved? Is abstract art a betrayal of humanity? And how can a man who reveres Bracque claim to despise Cubism?