Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel 1915
Director: Bruno Dumont
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent
Cert: PG Running time: 91 minutes

Camille Claudel (Binoche) was a sculptor of immense talent whose career was cut tragically short. Following the tumultuous end to her passionate relationship with Auguste Rodin, Camille – prone to frustrated rages during which she would destroy her work – was forcibly admitted to Montdevergues mental asylum by her family, although doctors there deemed her psychologically healthy.

It is here that the film begins, at the beginning of her long incarceration. Shot in drained shades of grey, the atmosphere remains cold and bleak throughout, heightened by the film’s complete absence of music. The oppressive silence is only punctured by echoed footsteps in the corridors and the shrieks of other patients. Unable to work or to confide in those around her, Camille oscillates between stout resignation and outbursts of inconsolable despair.

There is a distinct lack of narrative, the plot hinging on Camille’s wait for a visit from her brother Paul (Vincent). Her struggle to preserve her sanity becomes the film’s focus as we watch her identity being slowly sapped away. Long close-ups of Camille’s worn-down expression are interspersed with uncomfortably long shots of her fellow inmates who, controversially, are played by mentally disabled patients at the psychiatric hospital that remains at Montdevergues today. The close-up camera feels invasive, the institution’s oppressive claustrophobia becoming as inescapable for the viewer as it is for Camille.

Binoche’s performance is as complex and compelling as ever. Her raw rendering of Camille’s psychological destruction is often difficult to watch – yet it’s impossible to turn away. This isn’t easy viewing. It’s harrowing and uncompromising, but it gives due justice to a great artist robbed of her soul. ★ ★ ★

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