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Camille Claudel 1915 by Bruno Dumont

September 11, 2013


The story of Camille Claudel is a fascinating and scary one: born in 1864, she lived a successful – though turbulent, especially during her artistic and sentimental relationship with Auguste Rodin – life until 1913 when her family had Camille locked up into an asylum for the mentally ill, she will remain there until the day of her death, in 1943; the family constantly ignored the doctor’s advice to let her return to family and normal life. Camille Claudel was a heroine and a victim of the times she lived in and there are many aspects of her biography who deserve our attention, director Bruno Dumont has chosen – basing his screenplay on authentic letters and hospital records – to focus on three days of her life in the Montdevergues asylum, in the nearing of Avignon. Camille Caludel 1915 is Dumont’s – a two times Grand Prix du Jury winner at Cannes – seventh feature and it represents the first time in his career seeing him to work with professional actors and real life characters. Famous French actress Juliette Binoche – who plays the main role of course – is the reason of this film, she wanted to work with Dumont and at the time of her call the director was reading a book about Camille Claudel, no makeup is one of the rules she readily accepted to work with Dumont.


Three is not only the number of days in Camille’s life but also the number of her relationships explored by the film: Camille with herself, Camille and the asylum, Camille and her family. By 1915 Camille had stopped working, in a scene we see her starting to mold a figure with her hands but then she suddenly stops and throws it away, Dumont points his attention on how difficult can be for an artist – by definition a highly sensitive soul – to renounce his art (art as a lightning rod). The asylum in Camille 1915 is vividly rendered, Dumont’s choice to work with real asylum patients creates a palpable atmosphere of the reality of the situation, furthermore the vivid rendering of the place reinforces our perception of Camille’s sanity. Camille’s family in the film is impersonated by her brother – poet and diplomat Paul Claudel – while in real life also her mother played an active role to keep her in the asylum; Paul’s diplomatic career maybe was the main reason for his choice to lock his sister up, but Paul was also known to be a devout Catholic who believed that only religion and faith had spared him to end like Camille and Dumont has chosen to put into play this aspect which echoes and expands the art as a lightning rod concept into religion as a lightning rod.


Brother and sister are walking two different paths, we have a visual rendering of this looking at the walk Camille takes with a group of patients (the movie poster at the top of the post) and the walk Paul takes with a priest a few hours before visiting Camille at the asylum (picture at the start of this paragraph): we can see Camille (restless in her churchgoing) climbing the arid limestone peaks of Les Alpilles region, while Paul (a man fulfilled by his religious credo) after attending Mass walks a serene Provençal path. Camille Claudel 1915 is certainly the richest film in dialogue Dumont has ever shot, but the cinematic finesse here is typical Dumont: framing, re-framing with small camera movements and short reverse shot may seem very basic by today’s standard of flamboyant shots we see in most films, but Dumont confirms once again that what really matters is not the technique but the understanding you need to have of the technique to create cinematic content. Camille Claudel is very different from Dumont’s previous work, nonetheless confirms him as one of the most cinematically gifted directors of our time while revealing him as an inspired director of professional actors: Camille Claudel will be remembered as one of the greatest performances by Juliette Binoche.

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