Camille Claudel 1915, film review: A potent portrait of the artist's interior

(PG) Dir. Bruno Dumont; Starring Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, 95mins
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The Independent Culture

Camille Claudel was a French sculptor; a student of Auguste Rodin's, and then his muse and mistress of 15 years. But by 1915, and the stage of her life with which Bruno Dumont's film is concerned, she is no longer sculpting and has been shut away by her family in the Montdevergues mental asylum in Avignon.

Juliette Binoche plays Claudel. Given how starved of opportunities to express herself she is, it is remarkable how much Binoche communicates of Claudel's turmoil. Cinema isn't naturally suited to describing interior lives the way literature is, but with a great actor and the power of the close-up, Dumont is able to keep the audience in a near constant state of sympathetic distress.

Claudel's fellow inmates – "these creatures," as she calls them – are played by non-actors with mental disabilities, which makes the feeling that Claudel is in the wrong place all the more powerful. The nuns who tend her are kindly, but when she is visited by her brother, the Catholic poet and writer Paul Claudel (Jean-Luc Vincen), his religion seems cruel and intellectually bankrupt. This is a stark film, about the human condition at its most base and degraded.