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Al Pacino is to play Henri Matisse in film directed by Canada's Deepa Mehta. ((Matt J. Terrill/Associated Press))

Veteran U.S. actor Al Pacino is to play Henri Matisse in a forthcoming film about the French artist, with the project to be directed by Canada's Deepa Mehta.

Variety reports the 70-year-old actor, known for his roles in The Godfather and  The  Merchant of Venice, has signed on to portray the French modernist painter, printmaker and sculptor.

The film, titled Masterpiece, will centre on the artist's relationship with his nurse and muse, Monique Bourgeois.

Bourgeois was a 21-year-old, part-time nurse when she began working for Matisse in 1942. The artist, who was in his 70s at the time, featured her in several of his canvases before the Second World War forced them apart.

When they met again in 1946, she had become a Dominican nun known as Sister Jacques-Marie and asked him to help design and paint a new chapel in Vence, near Nice. The result was Chapelle du Rosaire, often known as the Matisse chapel and one of the most important works of art of the 20th century.

Mehta is slated to direct based on a script by Donald Martin. So far, no date has been set to begin filming. The female lead has not been announced.

Mehta earned an Oscar nomination in 2006 for Water, while Pacino won an Academy Award for his turn in 1992's  Scent of a Woman.