You're seeing that correctly, this is a 4 hour film. Four hours! In the same time it took two half-pints to cross hazardous terrain on foot and destroy a ring of ultimate power while two armies engaged in a several epic battles during an extended cut, this guy only manages to churn out two measly paintings and a few sketches.
Of course that comparison is in jest as the goals of each film is very different. La Belle Noiseuse gives an extended view into one elderly man's creative process as he tries to paint what he thinks will be his masterpiece when inspired by a new muse Marianne. We see Edouard sketch, and sketch, and sketch some more. Extremely long takes often with fixed camera positioning captures an image emerging from the blank page. This could truly be a fascinating record if the artist was Renoir or Francis Bacon, but I am largely unimpressed with his technique. I certainly can't reconcile his precise demands that his model hold a difficult position when his crude darwings exhibit very liltle detail. I would call him an expressionist in that he states that he is trying to capture the essence of his subject, but achieving limited success.
Another problem concerns the exaggerated drama in the story. A young artist Nicolas offers his girlfriend Marianne as Edouard's subject. She is disgusted that she wasn't asked first, but when she agrees Nicolas thinks it's out of spite and moans that she must be boinking the guy 40 years her senior. Meanwhile Edouard's wife Liz warns Marianne "be careful or he will ruin you" because of his honesty with a brush. These are some pathetic human beings if their feelings are this fragile, and therfore I found these entanglements which are supposed to play out over a 3-day stay hard to swallow.
I did appreciate the scenes of drawing and painting to a point, watching his approach, and especially his interaction with Marianne. This was the real value to me, the relationship between the artist and his model. They talk about inspiration, dedication, sacrifice, and the fleeting mystery of the creative mind. My favorite scene happens when they have both drunk too much wine, and really the only time the overly serious mood is lifted. Marianne is played by Emmanuelle Béart who is one of the most beautiful actresses in film history, and in this role she is completely nude for at least an hour of screen time. I can't think of anyone more daring at baring their body, and studying her form is a providential privilege.
Even with the scary length, extremely slow pace, and above criticisms, it did not feel cumbersome until around the 3-hour mark. I'm conflicted about the rating because it provides a worthy experience in several respects, but I have a strong feeling the re-edited and much shorter Divertimento would qualify as a significant improvement and thus the preferable version. If that turns out to be untrue, I may have to recalibrate this one.
Endnote: The common English title is "The Beautiful Nuisance" but according to the desription given during the movie about what a "noiseuse" is, I am inclined to translate as "The Beautiful Nutcase" since they say a noiseuse acts crazily with a tendency to be a nuisance. However, I can understand an arthouse distributor wanting to class it up a bit.