France’s Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu find roles tailored to their considerable talents in this conscientious but dramatically conventional biopic about the gifted sculptress Camille Claudel, who was the muse and mistress of Auguste Rodin. Film was made in closed-set circumstances on a $16 million budget (cofinanced by pubcaster Antenne 2, which will get a longer miniseries version).
Though nominal producer and director are Christian Fechner and ace lenser Bruno Nuytten, in his scripting-helming debut, Camille Claudel is very much Adjani’s picture. She bought the rights to a recent official biography, won the exclusive blessings of the Claudel estate (which effectively sank two rival film projects, including one by Claude Chabrol with Isabelle Huppert) and developed the project over a five-year-period.
The screenplay attempts to reestablish Camille Claudel as an artist and woman in her own right, fighting for control of her artistic and emotional destiny and losing in the end. The film (in its theatrical cut) tends to define Claudel essentially in her tumultuous 15-year relationship with Rodin, who at the beginning of the picture is sufficiently impressed with her work (and her ambitious temperament) to take her on as assistant in his public works atelier.
As exclusive in her romantic needs as she is exacting in her artistic standards, Claudel pushes the complex liaison toward its breaking point. In the process her own mind begins to go.
As her brother, Paul Claudel (Laurent Crevill) rises to celebrity as Catholic poet and dramatist, Camille declines. Her situation between Rodin and Paul, both overbearing and pompous artists, never is seriously dramatized. Scenes with the parents (played by Madeleine Robinson and Alain Cuny, 80-year-old veteran of Paul Claudel’s theater) are not the most convincing.
Adjani throws herself into a role worthy of her abilities, giving intense relief, if not enough pathos, to a strong-willed femme artist. Depardieu, sporting a thick beard, ‘sculpts’ a massive portrait of the artist as man, lover and creator. What’s missing between the two performances, however, is the evolution of feelings complicated by professional and private jealousies.