Mainstream cinema biopics tend to crudely sensationalise their subjects in pursuit of drama, but CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 comes at its own with determined curiosity.
Powered by a compellingly varied performance by Juliette Binoche, it depicts a single week in the life of the titular French sculptor, during the year when she is confined by her family to an asylum in remote Southern France, with only a visit from her brother Paul to look forward to.
Director, writer, and co-editor Robert Dumont engages in the same muted search for fleeting nourishment as his subject, with none of the extreme violence or provocation that has polarised audiences of his previous work. He maintains a lingering view of small happenings that cause great turns in Claudel’s state. Though plotless, he and Binoche deftly portray every emotional shift so that they rewardingly complement each other; her weaknesses give weight to quick moments of joy and remembrance, and vice versa. The asylum itself is similarly treated; an environment constructed with the same multiplicity as any in so-called civilisation, making Claudel’s reactions all the more fascinating and fearful.
Refreshingly, the movie is mature enough to not position Claudel on the wholly noble and uninquiring end of a ‘her-versus-them’ binary. It makes mention of former lovers and other events that feed into her current pathology, and finds parallels in past instances of self-isolation, but smartly relents from any didactic statements on her rightful place. Through hushed title cards and narration, it lays out the facts of her later existence, and gives its own cinematic excavation an ability to comfortably co-exist.
Having screened at last year’s Berlinale and Sydney Film Festival, it makes a welcome addition to the programme, as a poignant and studious journey into the places that history rarely has words for.