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France 1988
Directed by
Bruno Nuytten
175 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Camille Claudel

Made at a time when French art-house meant top drawer period pieces, Gérard Depardieu was at the height of his fame, Isabelle Adjani was a major drawcard and feminism was sweeping all before it this biopic of Camille Claudel, a young French sculptor long-known in art historical circles as Auguste Rodin’s mistress, pulls together all four strands.

It is an exemplary production that shows the French doing what they do best– romancing their past.  Set in the late 19th century when France was the Western world’s capital in both art and design Camille Claudel was made to order (it was an enormous box-office hit in France, where it won five Césars). If director and co- \writer (with Marilyn Goldin) Bruno Nuytten overdoes the myth of “The Artist”, a romantic stereotype which Depardieu relishes, the real strength of the film is its take on Claudel’s story and Adjani’s empathetic portrayal of it.

Needless to say in the time in which the film is set women had very little independence or credibility and the career possibilities for a female artist were effectively zero.  At first Camille revels in being an apprentice/assistant to France’s most famous sculptor but she makes the fatal mistake of becoming his mistress (somewhat surprisingly, but probably mercifully, there are no scenes paralleling the pair’s haptic gifts and their love-making).  

When in order to stop his domestic boat from rocking Rodin drops her Claudel becomes convinced that he and his cronies are trying to destroy her. She becomes increasingly paranoid, possibly due to latent schizophrenia, and as we find out in the end titles is committed to an insane asylum by her mother and her brother, Paul, a fervidly Roman Catholic poet and playwright, where she remained for forty years until her death at the age of 78.

It is a tragic story and although Nuytten, a cinematographer making his directorial debut, and Adjani, who was the film’s executive producer, do not push the story hard enough towards realism with the actress still managing to look quite fetching despite her character’s descent into self-neglectful madness, we nevertheless are moved by the injustice of Claudel's treatment. Where she should stand in the history of l'art moderne is a matter not addressed.




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