8 April 2014 | smiley_b81
Best Foreign film of 2013
Bruno Dumont's "Camille Claudel 1915" is 2013's undiscovered masterpiece. The film is a perfect marriage of a director's austere vision and actress showcase with Juliette Binoche's raw, poetic portrayal of the great French sculptress, middle-aged and institutionalized in an asylum ran by nuns.
Paranoid over her once illicit relationship with famed sculpture Auguste Rodin (she insists she cook her own food out of fear of being poisoned), its painfully obvious that Claudel's shifty, manic (but still very conscious) mind has perhaps stymied her gift for good. In one remarkable scene, Camille picks up a patch of dirt with the thickness of clay, and hearing the birds chirp in a tree, she tries to sculpt a sparrow and the earth just slips through the cracks of her fingers. Binoche makes it heartbreaking.
Dumont has made his art-house rep blending the rigid formal constraints of his grand forefather Robert Bresson with elements of the French Extreme cinema that emerged in the late 90's. In his films like "29 Palms" and "Flanders", behavior, often savage, is there to be observed not explained, and psychology is to be revoked. In the end we have actions, not characters. Not true in "Camille Claudel 1915". Bresson is very much there, but there is a bit of a Bergman and a Dreyer influence as well in its seeming religious objectivity (Dumont proves an expert of the pained close-up). We become familiar with Camille's day to day existence on the inside and out, and sensitive toward those 'truly' mentally ill that surround her.
The compassion and care of the nuns in the asylum toward the inhabitants is contrary to the fundamentalist extremism of Camille's brother Paul, the man responsible for her imprisonment. The film's only shocking moment comes when he explains to the asylum's priest that he became a Christian after being inspired by the poetry of Rimbaud, as we know Rimbaud's life and art was far more blasphemous than Claudel's.
Although more accessible than his previous work, Dumont's film will bore many viewers. Nowhere is it entertaining in any traditional Americanized sense. But anyone whose already familiar with Dumont, anyone that's felt levitated by Dreyer, Bresson or Bergman, anyone whose been a fan of Binoche and her acting, will be moved by this film as I was.