×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Rodin’

Even culture vultures will have their senses dulled by this ploddingly didactic two-hour lesson in the life and loves of master sculptor Rodin.

Director:
Jacques Doillon
With:
Vincent Lindon, Izïa Higelin, Séverine Caneele, Bernard Verley, Anders Danielsen Lie, Olivier Cadiot, Arthur Nauzyciel, Laurent Poitrenaux, Guylène Péan, Magdalena Malina, Léa Jackson, Olivia Baes, Svetlana Semusheva, Edward Akrout.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5771710/

On the centenary of Auguste Rodin’s death, Jacques Doillon delivers a useful educational tool for the armchair traveler too lazy to go to a museum. Or read a book. “Rodin” could also be watched as prep work before going to the Musée Rodin, a partner in the film’s production. What it’s not so good for is a cinema audience expecting more than a plodding two-hour lesson in the artist’s life. Given Doillon’s recent films (“Love Battles”), one could have imagined this would have more flesh pounding than clay kneading, but no, his “Rodin” is a meticulously reverential, handsomely lit and very dull biopic about the 19th century’s most revolutionary sculptor. Given the artist’s cachet among culture vultures, it’s likely some art houses will book a limited run, but reviews won’t be positive.

Those retaining fond memories of Bruno Nuytten’s “Camille Claudel” will be curious to see how Doillon reimagines Rodin and the central relationship in his life (apart from clay), yet “Rodin” largely reinforces the earlier film’s story, shifting perspective of course but without significantly changing any of the personality traits — except Vincent Lindon’s Rodin is less egotistical than Gérard Depardieu’s. At least the 1988 film told a good story, with a sense of flow, whereas Doillon presents episodes in the sculptor’s life, separated by deadening black screens.

Three elements take center stage: his relationship with Claudel (Izïa Higelin, “Summertime”), his work on the monumental Gates of Hell project, and the all-consuming obsession with his Balzac statue. At the film’s start, Claudel is already in the master’s studio as a prize assistant and lover. Though Rodin was well-known for sleeping with his models and pupils, his pairing with Claudel was the only affair to threaten the stability of his non-traditional common-law marriage to Rose (Séverine Caneele), a stolid country woman whose involvement with his artistic career was long past. Claudel chafes at her lover’s inability to commit and bristles at being overshadowed by his fame, until she flees from under his shadow and gradually loses her mind (vaguely implied but not seen).

Meanwhile, he’s continually at work on his great Balzac statue, a work famously derided when first presented — Oscar Wilde (not quoted in the film) described it as “the leonine head of a fallen angel, with a dressing gown.” And about that dressing gown: Doillon includes an unintentionally hilarious “Eureka!” moment when Rodin, contemplating his statue’s nakedness, grabs an overcoat, tosses it in a bucket of wet plaster, drapes it over the paunchy form, and voilà, a masterpiece is born. The director clearly read far too many books about his subject before writing his script, but was this particular episode ever described thus?

At least that scene shows part of the artistic process, as opposed to the constant stream of ridiculously didactic lines tossed out by all the famous people in Rodin’s circle. Victor Hugo (Bernard Verley) isn’t just glimpsed but overheard saying something profound — this isn’t a Mike Leigh “Turner” sort of film seeking to uncover the runny-nosed man-of-the-earth who crafts sublime masterpieces. Rather, this is hagiography looking to educate. Rodin to Cézanne (Arthur Nauzyciel): “Stay strong!” Rodin to Monet (Olivier Cadiot): “You helped me understand light!” Name dropping runs amok, and why exactly bring Rainer Maria Rilke (Anders Danielsen Lie) into the picture when all he does is explain the Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? It may be edifying to read, but it’s stultifying to watch.

Lindon’s physical solidity is impressive. He holds himself like a great hunk of clay, thick and dense and rooted to the ground, making this seem like even more of a wasted opportunity when considering what could have been done with a Rodin biopic. Visiting the major exhibition currently on in Paris would be far more insightful. Higelin has an innocence about her, a directness and simplicity in the early scenes that happily normalizes Claudel; only later do the neuroses start to take hold of her fragile mind. Other actors perform their roles with gravitas except the artist’s models, all tediously giggly or, in the case of Gwen John (Olivia Baes), here called Mary, quivering with sexual excitement when near the master.

Much of the shooting was done in the actual locations, with production designer Katia Wyszkop doing a commendable job making it all look perfect on screen. Rodin’s studios are artfully filled with carefully arranged plaster casts, a serendipitous mirror placed to show multiple sides of the statues. Strong, white lighting sets everyone off in a flawless theatrical glow when natural light isn’t enough, and Christophe Beaucarne’s loving cinematography ensures this has “prestige” written all over.

Cannes Film Review: 'Rodin'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 23, 2017. Running time: 120 MIN.

Production: (France-Belgium) A Wild Bunch (in France), Cinéart (in Belgium) release of a Les Film du Lendemain, Artémis Productions, Cohen Media Group, Wild Bunch, France 3 Cinéma, RTBF, VOO & Be TV, Shelter Prod, in partnership with the Musée Rodin, with the participation of Canal plus, Ciné plus, France Télévisions, CNC, in association with Palatine Etoile 14, Sofitvcine 4. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Producer: Kristina Larsen. Co-producers: Patrick Quinet, Charles S. Cohen.

Crew: Director, writer: Jacques Doillon. Camera (color): Christophe Beaucarne. Editor: Frédéric Fichefet. Music: Philippe Sarde.

With: Vincent Lindon, Izïa Higelin, Séverine Caneele, Bernard Verley, Anders Danielsen Lie, Olivier Cadiot, Arthur Nauzyciel, Laurent Poitrenaux, Guylène Péan, Magdalena Malina, Léa Jackson, Olivia Baes, Svetlana Semusheva, Edward Akrout.

More Film

  • sith trooper

    Sith Trooper Revealed From 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

    “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” revealed a new storm trooper uniform Wednesday at San Diego Comic Con as part of a special exhibit celebrating the evolution of the storm trooper design. Dubbed the Sith trooper, the new uniform sports all-red armor plates with a matching red and black blaster. Also decorating the armor is [...]

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • The Lion King

    Film News Roundup: PETA Sponsors Rescued Lion in Jon Favreau's Name

    In today’s film news roundup, PETA honors Jon Favreau for “The Lion King,” “Tigers Are Not Afraid” gets a theatrical release, a Kirk Franklin biopic is in development and “The Sixth Sense” gets an anniversary showing in Philadelphia. HONOR The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is sponsoring a rescued lion to honor director [...]

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content