Juliette Binoche performs with real asylum patients in Camille Claudel biopic

The film chart's the celebrated artist and mistress of Rodin when she was confined in a mental institution

Mike Collett-White
Wednesday 13 February 2013 15:14
Comments
Juliette Binoche at the Berlin Film Festival yesterday
Juliette Binoche at the Berlin Film Festival yesterday

The story of French sculptress Camille Claudel is almost impossibly sad, and Juliette Binoche attempts to portray that tragedy in a new film set in an asylum where the actress performs alongside mentally disabled patients.

Camille Claudel 1915, in competition at the Berlin film festival, depicts three days in the life of an artist who spent her last 29 years in a mental institution in southern France, confined against her will by her family.

Director Bruno Dumont set the action in 1915, because it meant Binoche's age would coincide with that of Claudel at that time, just beginning her stay at the asylum at Montdevergues.

He and Binoche based their research on medical notes and letters between Camille and her brother, the renowned poet and devout Catholic Paul Claudel, who was the only member of her family to visit her, and even then only occasionally.

"I read everything that she'd written," said French actress Binoche, an Oscar winner in The English Patient, of her research for the role.

"I steeped myself in her character and writings and there was a nothingness there, an abandonment, the absence of sculpture, the absence of the family, the absence of affection, the absence of violence," the 48-year-old told reporters.

In the film, despair, depression and uncontrollable tears are mixed with girlish excitement at the prospect of an impending visit from Paul.

The plot builds up to their meeting, during which Camille begs her brother to free her. But the pious and pompous Paul ignores both her and the head of the asylum who recommends she should return to normal society.

Viewers wonder whether Camille or Paul is the more deranged.

Camille is convinced people are trying to poison her, and blames sculptor Auguste Rodin, with whom she had a long affair, for ruining her life.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

Meanwhile Paul speaks of his belief like a man possessed, basking in self importance and yet impervious to his older sister's impassioned entreaties to be set free.

"His only protection is God, but in his love of God he is in a total spiritual delirium and he is as lost as her," Dumont said of Paul.

"They had something very similar. But Camille didn't have the protection of God, she was entirely wrapped up in her love of Rodin."

The action seeks to convey the drudgery of life at the asylum, housed in an ancient, cloistered building.

Camille is allowed to make her own meals - always a boiled potato and egg - due to her paranoia, and is a constant help to the nuns who care for the patients.

At times she is at peace, at others she weeps in despair.

In the end she remained at the asylum until 1943 when she died in her late 70s. She was buried in a communal grave, and no one from her family, not even Paul, attended her funeral.

Dumont decided to cast patients to play themselves in the film, and the sisters caring for them were their real-life nurses. Some were aware enough to give their own consent, and others had their families do so on their behalf.

The interaction between them and the professional actors adds spontaneity to the scenes, as does the fact that much of the dialogue is improvised.

"I never know what's going to happen, and that's exactly what interests me," Dumont said of his choices. "Each time I say 'action', something unexpected will happen, but the unexpected is welcome, it's even necessary in this kind of work."

Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in