The powerful drama is in Binoche's face.
Camille Claudel 1915
Director: Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus)
Screenplay: Dumot, letters of Camille and Paul Claudel
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent
Runtime: 95 min.
by John DeSando
“There is something sadder to lose than life – the reason for living.” Paul Claudel, poet, playwright, diplomat and younger brother of Camille.
Camille Claudel 1915 is not The King of Hearts, a lyrical 1966 drama about a WWII French asylum in a town about to be invaded by Nazis. Claudel is decidedly not lyrical except for its exceptionally artistic cinematography dominated by trees that look like sculptures and buildings ancient with secrets.
It’s a somber but fascinating three-day narrative about artist Camille Claudel’s confinement in a madhouse while she is awaiting her famous mystic-poet brother, Paul, to visit her.
Previous to 1915, Camille had been the student and lover of Auguste Rodin, the most famous French sculptor of his time and one of the greatest in the history of civilization. Her incarceration was due to her paranoia in general about his alleged plot to poison her and her schizophrenia, both reflected after breaking up with Rodin in her smashing her sculptures in her own studio.
This film deals little with Rodin but much with her brother, who refused her entreaties, and those of the mental hospital staff, to release her. His chilling visitation to her is redolent of his reliance on a mystical relation with God and certainty that she not be released to go home. The introductory quote suggests he may not have adhered to his own philosophy by ignoring the signs that she was sane and the reality of denying her a reason to live.
This stark film concentrates mostly on her lonely struggle to protect herself from the plot to poison her and her loss of her sculptures and tools. Her artistry is supplanted by boiling potatoes and avoiding crazed fellow inmates. She says in one of her letters, "Madhouses are houses made on purpose to cause suffering….I cannot stand any longer the screams of these creatures.” The movie is static but intensely suggestive through the brilliant Binoche’s expressions of wisdom and isolation.
It’s not hard to sympathize with an artist robbed of her livelihood and family. That she may truly be schizophrenic and paranoid is always possible; however Binoche’s humanity tips the scale in favor of Camille’s sanity and the world’s indifference. As a woman and an artist in the shadow of Rodin, she is doomed to second-class citizenship.
Camille will spend almost three decades without hope:“Sadder than to lose one's possessions is to lose one's hope.” Paul Claudel
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com