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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review - Camille Claudel 1915

Director: Bruno Dumont, France 2013

A lovely pale and fragile-looking woman picks up a stone as if for a special purpose, then merely drops it. She watches a potato boil. She hears occasional shrieks. While she eats her potato, other women moan and bang on the table. She goes outdoors. The gray stone walls of the asylum look cold and forbidding, but she appears warm and at ease. Sculptor Camille Claudel (portrayed by Juliette Binoche) has been in the asylum for about three years, confined by her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and her mother. She anxiously awaits a visit from Paul. Her doctor thinks that she would do well at home with family around her, but Paul does not agree. No other family members even visit her.

Based on the letters of Camille Claudel and her writer brother Paul, this film explores Camille’s daily routine life in a mental institution. She is helpful with other patients who seem to have much greater disabilities. She is at times tearful or angry. She fears someone is trying to poison her. More particularly, she believes her ex-lover Auguste Rodin is engaged in a conspiracy to stop her artistic work.

Camille closely observes all of her surroundings, noting the pattern of the carpet. She takes pleasure in small ways, like enjoying a walk up the hillside with other patients. She becomes angry at the idea that her studio was taken from her. You can sense her loss in the very powerful, complex performance by Binoche that will appeal to the many admirers of Claudel, whose artistic talents were too soon deterred.

Press Conference: Radiant in red, in deep contrast to her film character, Juliette Binoche explained that the film concept originated from her desire to work with Bruno Dumont. She felt lucky that France had a director who looks at the soul like Bruno does. So she asked to work with him and together they decided to work on Camille Claudel. Bruno saw a likeness between Juliette and Camille in that Juliette is more than an actor, she is also an artist. The year 1915 was chosen because it makes Juliette closer to Camille’s actual age, so he is taking Juliette as she is today. Life in the asylum was simple, so the story is a very simple, straightforward one. Juliette explained that originally there wasn’t a screenplay. She read all that Camille had written. Based on what she learned, she feels her performance is more of a visitation than acting.

Trivia: Real-life patients play patients. (Mary N.)

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