Film Reviews

CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915

By • Oct 21st, 2013 •

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CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 covers a very brief amount of time in the life of the French sculptress. She had already been a student and 15-year mistress of Auguste Rodin, lived for over a decade as an independent artist, and been institutionalized for two years by her family. A typical biopic would’ve covered the majority of her life and the biggest drama, including what led up to her institutionalization. Instead, director Bruno Dumont (HUMANITE) chose a small and relatively quiet period – one winter of mental asylum confinement. As Dumont remarked in an interview, “You don’t have to tell someone’s whole life. You can tell the truth in a few seconds.”

As a viewer, you may disagree, but there is a remarkable amount of emotional weight one gets from so brief a time and so little action – namely the inner torment and sense of imprisonment that Camille feels. Played impeccably by Juliette Binoche, there’s power in the simplicity and reserve of her performance. Dumont also directs with keen observation and a confidently soft hand. It’s an austere film where not an incredible amount happens but much is conveyed.

With some controversy, Dumont chose to use real mental asylum inmates in the film and they do provide an authenticity and unpredictability that would’ve been hard to replicate with actors. Their lack of mental grounding contrasts strongly with the character of Camille who has a deep intelligence and focus. In many instances, Camille seems like the most sane person in the facility, perhaps more so than her nun caretakers. She certainly seems more sane than her seemingly delusional brother and Christian mystic poet, Paul Claudel.

Madness surrounds Camille but the asylum is set in a beautiful part of the south of France. She therefore seeks out nature and quiet as solace from the inmates and her own destructive thoughts. It’s a welcome break for the viewer as well since we’re often surrounded by the grunts and groans of asylum inmates.

It’s conceivable that CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 may not satisfy some fans of traditional biopics or fans of Ms. Claudel’s art who are looking for more drama. However, there is satisfaction in only seeing an artfully crafted glimpse but having the feeling of a full range of her struggles.

The film opened in New York on Wednesday, October 16th at Film Forum.

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