Camille Claudel 1915 (3 stars)

Camille Claudel 1915

Bruno Dumont's historical biopic is a quiet heartbreaker starring a typically luminous Juliette Binoche

Camille Claudel spent the last 30 years of her life confined to an asylum near Avignon. Using her medical records and correspondence, Bruno Dumont's sparse drama focuses on a brief period early in her incarceration. It effectively conveys the decades of abandonment and despair that lay ahead of her. It is a quiet heartbreaker of a film made all the more intense by a typically luminous performance from Juliette Binoche

Dumont frequently allows the camera to linger over Binoche's features as she silently expresses the emotional torment of a woman who seems more of a prisoner than an inmate. There are deliberate echoes of Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan Of Arc as we bear witness to her suffering. The decision to cast non-professional, mentally handicapped individuals as Claudel's fellow inmates veers towards the uncomfortably voyeuristic but is handled with sensitivity and underlines the impression that Claudel does not belong here. She may talk of plots to poison her and obsess about her long-ago relationship with Rodin but in every other respect she is lucid and understandably eager to be released from this slow, living hell.

The spartan retreat in Avignon is devoid of colour, joy or privacy, despite the kindness of the nuns who watch over Claudel. In one key scene, she picks up a handful of mud and her instincts as a sculptor mean that she begins to shape and mould it before throwing it away. It is a reminder of a life and a talent that she will never revisit.

Camille Claudel 1915 is less compelling when it focuses on her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the stern sense of faith that convinces him  his sister suffers from an arrogance that is a form of possession. His claims to be acting in her best interests are chilling. 

That aside, Camille Claudel 1915 is a measured, challenging historical drama but also one of Dumont's more accessible films.

Limited release from Fri 20 Jun.

Camille Claudel 1915 | 2013 | Trailer | Bruno Dumont | Juliette Binoche

Camille Claudel 1915

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • France
  • 1h 35min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Bruno Dumont
  • Cast: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, Emmanuel Kauffman
  • UK release: 20 June 2014

Biopic covering the later life of the French sculptor.