Separating Artist And Muse: ‘Camille Claudel’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Camille Claudel (Isabelle Adjani) was a sculptor before she met Auguste Rodin (Gérard Depardieu), yet her work is almost always associated with his. Part of that comes from how important Rodin was in her life — both professionally and personally. While director Bruno Nuytten couldn’t have cut him out of her story completely, he could’ve resisted playing into the association by focusing less on the men in Camille’s life in Camille Claudel and more on the artist she was without them.

To do that, Nuytten’s film could’ve included the time she studied with French sculptor Alfred Boucher. While his name is mentioned a few times at the beginning (assumably, it was with him that Camille developed the skills that impress Rodin so much when they meet), starting the film with Rodin gives the impression that is when her career started. But she didn’t pick up the basics from him, and it’s a shame that Nuytten and Marilyn Goldin (who co-wrote the screenplay) didn’t take advantage of those early years to show Camille learning her craft.
As it is, some of the best scenes in the movie involve Camille physically sculpting (and Rodin, too, for that matter, like in a sequence where Nuytten cuts back and forth between Rodin feeling Camille’s face and molding her features in clay, as edited by Joëlle Hache and Jeanne Kef). There aren’t enough of them. The film also does a good job familiarizing viewers with some of Camille’s statues. The repetition of seeing them again and again makes it even more painful when Camille starts to give up on herself.
Rodin is the obvious man in Camille’s life, and he shows up early in the movie, but the very first scene in Camille Claudel involves Camille’s brother, Paul (Laurent Grévill). In it, Camille is missing and Paul doesn’t know where to look for her (this becomes a recurring problem with him). Initially, when he declares her missing it sounds serious; like a framing device where the movie starts at the end and then goes back to discover what happened. Plot-wise, this scene doesn’t amount to much, but its significance comes from what it tells viewers about their relationship – the precedent it sets of Paul not really understanding his sister.
Camille Claudel is based on a true story, but it’s the story of Camille’s family, too. Besides the fact that Paul is a famous poet in his own right, the film begins and ends on him. Anyone who’s only seen the start of this movie would think that’s because they’re very close. In her commentary track for Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray, film critic Samm Deighan even picks up on some incestuous vibes and, later, is able to provide some crucial information that sheds some light on why Paul might’ve betrayed Camille.
Paul doesn’t appear in the final scene of the movie, but he is the recipient of the letter Camille reads aloud in voiceover. Their relationship feels very different at that point, but nothing’s really changed. He’s still the same guy who never learned to think like his sister. His actions just become more hurtful towards the end.
Camille Claudel is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber and comes with a booklet essay by film critic Abbey Bender.

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