Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Camille Claudell

Movie name: Camille Claudell
Year of release: 1988
Director: Bruno Nuytten
Stars: Isabelle Adjani, Gérard Depardieu, Laurent Grévill, Alain Cuny, Katrine Boorman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

“Camille Claudell” directed by Bruno Nuytten, recounts the story of the sculptress of the same name, and of her destructive relationship with her mentor and fellow artist, Auguste Rodin. Ultimately it’s a story of a woman ahead of her time, who let herself go on a downward spiral due to a passion bigger than life.

Recounting the story of artists (the usual biopics) is always a difficult matter (how does a film do justice to a person’s life), but one that is very close to actors. It usually allows them to showcase their acting chops, and they usually are rewarded with numerous awards (for closer inspection, notice Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Foxx, Cate Blanchett, just to name the more recent ones). “Camille Claudell” was a passion project for Isabelle Adjani (who was involved in it as star but also producer, though uncredited in the last condition), who by the late 80’s was France’s biggest star, having already won two Césars (the French equivalent to the Oscars) and a Oscar nomination (when she was only 19).
“Camille Claudell” tells the story of the sculptress since the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The film starts with the young Camille, just out of college, who presents herself, alongside a friend to Auguste Rodin, the famous sculptor, in the hopes of getting an internship at his studio. They eventually start working at the studio, and quickly understand they are condemned to do small tasks, that don’t really allow their talent to flourish. They also become aware of the carousing Rodin has with his female models. Camille, strong willed and possessed of her own artistic integrity, resolves to abandon Rodin’s studio and start working by herself. Rodin ends up being totally surprised by her talent, and an amorous relationship between the two eventually blossoms. This relationship, of equal artists, comes to an halt when Camille wants Rodin to choose between herself and the woman with whom he shares his life. When he fails to pursue their relationship, Camille’s downward spiral slowly starts to unravel.
Presented in such broad strokes, the film reads almost like a traditional story of the blossoming artist that is engulfed by the sudden success. However, “Camille Claudell” is so much more than a traditional story. In telling the story of a sculptress in the turn of the century, Isabelle Adjani and first time director Bruno Nuytten (then mostly known for being a Director of Photography), went for an approach that both highlighted her challenging ways in a mostly masculine society, where women had little saying in anything, particularly women artists, and also highlighted Camille’s obsession with a love that was bigger than life.
The film ends up presenting Camille as a full rounded character, as opposed to the likeable “prodigies” that sometimes can be seen in traditional biopics. Whereas initially she is presented as a woman wanting to show her talent, her art, as the story progresses and she gets involved with Rodin, we notice that what drives her, is not only her passion for art, but her passion for him and for life in general (she is what usually is labeled as “a force of nature”). Bruno Nuytten chooses well in focusing his story in the two main actors, Adjani and Gérard Depardieu, who excel in their compositions. For Adjani the part is possibly the crown achievement of her career – she embodies Camille in perfection, giving her a rage, a strength and desperation that is at points simultaneously touching and repulsive. She lets herself go in the role, never overacting, always balancing the abstraction of creation with the emotion of being a woman who embodies a lot of the feminist principles in a time when they were barely there. Depardieu creates in Rodin a man who is tired, who has reached the peak of his talent and now is just trying to find sparks that allow him to continue. Camille is for him a spark, a companion that understands the joys and difficulties of creation. He also shows Rodin as a feeble and week man – one more conformed and broken by society’s moralities, something that eventually ends up creating the gap between him and Camille. The film does not show the final outcome of Camille, but we read it on the final notes that grace the screen – hers was a tragic life, but as it’s pictured on the film, one filled with feeling and audacity.
“Camille Claudell” also benefits from an exquisite work from the director of photography, the production and art directors, and of the soundtrack – this is a period piece that certainly lives up to the highest standards. The film ended up winning it’s share of awards, namely the Césars, the Golden Lion at the Berlin film festival and gave Adjani her second Oscar nomination – all of which were fully deserved.
This is a film that urgently needs to be rediscovered – it’s beauty and tragic outcome will stay with you.