The year is 2017, Camille Claudel is back in town and she seems to go through a revival and reevaluation of her work and short artistic career. A museum dedicated to her life and art opened in March in the small French town of Nogent-sur-Seine, and the museum includes many of the works that survived the agitated 20th century and the destruction by the artist's own hands. Books are being written about her, and art history starts to take her seriously into account. Before this however, there were the films, and especially this one Camille Claudel from 1988. It is not exaggerated to say, I believe, that the film prepared her comeback to the world of arts.
Camille Claudel deals more with the character of Camille Claudel, her love story with Auguste Rodin, her relationship with her brother Paul, one of the important French poets of the first half of the 20th century than with her art. Actually one of the few critical observations one may have about the visual part of the film is that there is so little art in it, and from the film we cannot make to ourselves an idea about how good she was. We see an artist fighting with her material, we see a woman fighting prejudice in a world and at a time when women were far from being recognized as equal professionally to men, even less in arts. We see the young woman and artist falling under the fascination of her master and being torn between love and admiration for him, and the need to express herself, to be herself. We see her falling down the spiral of vanity and then madness, and it's up to us to judge whether the roots of her fall are in the social environment, in the attitude of her lover who may be a great artist but is also a womanizer and small human being in terms of relations, or in her own vanity and narcissism. Add to this the ambiguity of the relationship to her brother, and we can now understand the willingly or not, the focus of the script and director Bruno Nuytten was on her personal path rather than on her art.
For Bruno Nuytten this was the first film as director, but he already had in 1988 a long career as cinematographer, including a few superb films by Claude Berri. Not everything works or better said, not everything stood the almost 30 years since the film was made. Isabelle Adjani is superb, beautiful and ambitious, a fighter but fragile at the same time, turn between love and vanity. This is one of her best roles. Gérard Depardieu is very fit to Rodin's role, at that time his physical qualities were also perfect and added to his huge talent. The cinematography of the film (signed by Pierre Lhomme ) is excellent, and there are many scenes to remember - in the studio where Rodin and Claudel are shown fighting with the material from which they extracted their works, and out in the nature with clear allusions to the period of the Impressionists when this film is set. On the other hand the soundtrack is horrible. The use of violin music which would have been exaggerated even for a melodrama made in 1938, it's simply a disaster for this film about art and artists made in 1988. Add to this the poor quality of the sound (at least in the copy screened by ARTE TV) which makes half of the dialog incomprehensible even when it is not covered by violins. Maybe digital sound re-working will sometimes in the future save this film. It is highly deserved.