I’m a big fan of Bruno Dumont. Outside of Twentynine Palms, which I really disliked, and Outside Satan, which I haven’t seen yet, I love his films. So his new Camille Claudel 1915, about the life of the eponymous character, sculptor and former mistress of Auguste Rodin was highly anticipated.
Juliette Binoche is mesmerizing in the lead and Jean-Luc Vincent is fantastic as her brother Paul, but the film’s pace really drags. Camille Claudel 1915 is quiet, structured mostly around static wide-shots or slow push-ins (several of which are fantastic), and built on a premise of slow, creeping dread/realization – perhaps for the title character that she will never escape the asylum we find her in; perhaps that her affair with Rodin is long-over and that it’s less “important” and present now as it once was and/or is in her head; or perhaps for her brother Paul who, despite his minimal presence in the film, is a magnetic character whose proselytizing style is his justification for essentially abandoning his sister.
The sheer amount of close-ups that Dumont uses on Binoche is startling:
This is a film that relies so heavily on its lead that she comprises probably 70% of all total frame space in the film. I can’t recall something else like this. Dumont also relies a lot on Binoche to emote silently. Luckily for both him and us, she can.
Then there are dollies like this one:
It’s a long, slow push during a monologue. It gets uncomfortably close – another trait of the film; Dumont wants us to see the flaws on the great actress’ face. The above dolly is a bit odd for being a low angle that slowly pushes and cranes in and up. It’s a strange choice because the angle implies something: a POV, a presence, some kind of inflection. It’s hard to say exactly what. Like so much of Dumont’s work Camille Claudel 1915 is vague and taciturn.
I loved the set of a lot of the film. This one looks like a less-saturated version of Dorothy Valens apartment in Blue Velvet:
Camille is hardly ever in dialogue with anyone else so, alongside having her simply think to herself, Dumont gives her outward motivation. Like this Don Juan rehearsal that she watches where she goes from seeing the comic relief-
-to a mirror of her past relationship, perhaps with Rodin (a constant source of torment for her):
The pejorative view here would be that Camille Claudel 1915 is basically a film where you wait for Juliette Binoche to eventually cry in every scene. The positive outlook is that it’s emotionally brutal. She can’t find solace in even the most slapstick of moments.
As mentioned, Jean-Luc Vincent is really quite good as her brother. He has these intense, steely eyes, and also some kind of physical condition that forces him to stop and strain:
It’s unsettling and one of my favorite parts of the film. It’s unexplained, but you get the idea that perhaps he’s become such a staunch Christian as a way to “battle” whatever his impairment may be.
I really liked this Romanian film, which also features a stunning female lead in Luminita Gheorghiu as the overprotective mother of a man who has hit and killed a child with his car.
Like a lot of my favorite Romanian films (Aurora and Four Months Three Weeks & Two Days come to mind) this one is a slow-burner, heavy on dialogue. The difference is that Child’s Pose utilizes a really active camera, where I’m used to the other films either remaining largely static or having their camera’s move in fluid long takes.
I reviewed Child’s Pose, but I want to revise some of that review, particularly where I note the camera movement. It’s mostly accurate, but I included a thought that the director and DP seem to keep the camera mounted to a tripod despite its nervous movement. On second viewing that’s clearly not the case. It seems to be pure handheld, just, perhaps, better choreographed than other handheld we might be used to. Here, the camera does have the weight that I mention and it seems to be somewhere between steadicam and handheld.
I like this film and a lot of other Romanian New Wavers because the social criticism at work. Aurora paints a picture of an unstable outsider and Four Months is an often-horrifying look at the female plight; Child’s Pose does a fantastic job of comparing different social classes, particularly in the way that Gheorghiu’s Cornelia and her friend dress and their mannerisms, both of which are a far cry from those of the family of the deceased or the (somewhat inept) police.