Article by Andreea Mihalcea
Translated from Romanian by Claudia Moscovici
First of all, something tangential taken in a schoolgirl fashion from a classic book, from “The Glass Bell” by Sylvia Plath, dedicated to Monsieur Dumont, who seems preoccupied with insanity:”[…]when I was sliding under the shadow of the poplar trees, cool like the bottom of the sea.”
Camille Claudel 1915: a portrait of Camille Claudel–sculptor and graphic artist, the former mistress of Auguste Rodin and sister of the writer Paul Claudel–captured by Bruno Dumont around the age of 40, when she is confined in an insane asylum within the walls of a Catholic monastery. Three days in France, 1915, in the midst of war. Camille is paranoid and suffers from a persecution complex. It seems that what brought her to this state was a deep disappointment caused by her relationship with Rodin, a relationship that at the time brought her family’s disapproval, to which would be added one or two abortions. In a fit of schitzophrenia, she became convinced that Rodin was usurping her creative spirit and that he’d send accomplices in her small art studio on the shores of the river Seine to steal her ideas, sketches and sculptures. The real Camille Claudel actually destroyed with her own hands most of her artwork because of this suspicion. The problem is that twenty years later, she still continues to feel threatened by similar things, including the possibility that some of the sculptor’s acolytes are trying to poison her.
In an interview, Dumont declares that it sometimes happens, when you meet someone, that you can see in that person’s gaze the remnants of the past that they carry with them. That’s the angle that interested him about Camille’s character: that of a woman that “was”, respectively the state and the inertia (“nothingness,” as Dumont states) in which we find the present that we observe on the screen. This succeeds only partially. In part the film is and is not a film à la Dumont; in part it misses some things, in the sense that it tries to express the foundations of lucidity in a context of madness. Even though the film creates, at the very least, feelings of indignation in spectators with respect to the fact that it enters into contact with a character who abandons life, it also conveys the message that we should regard Camille as someone who has reached a state of grace through acceptance. Or, probably what troubles me most, is the fact that he doesn’t give enough time or attention to this transition from frustrated anger, repressed aggression, inertia and the refusal of live, on the one hand, to the revelation of a form of the sublime or of grace on the other. Bruno Dumont, where is the sequence where I, a poor spectator munching pop corn, can understand that this woman finds meaning by giving up on her sense of self? What does it mean, in the end, when she gazes up and her face is illuminated by a cold white sun, after which you rush to put a banner (like you did at the beginning of the film, where it was okay to do so), in which you list a few sinister chronological dates? No, Burno Dumont, you know as well as I do that’s not it. And yes, I regret terribly that you’ve become so affected. To hell with the-gaze-towards-the-sky! Pardon my vulgarity, but telle-quelle doesn’t express any moment of revelation. Maybe you will reply that there’s a still shot I didn’t observe from 53’58” to 54’50” where Camille holds a rosary in her hand, looking down, after which she directs her gaze out the window and observes a nun planting a tree. So what? I hope you don’t want to insinuate that the acceptance of her fate comes from the projected reading of this gesture? Please don’t insult me. My secondary objections stem from the fact that the film becomes at times too schematic and chooses to include in a rather obvious manner some narrative explanations about Camille’s backstory–even though, yes, cher Bruno, the allusion to the little scene from Don Juan was kind of cool (the second and last thing I appreciate about the film). But it would have been nice to not introduce it so heavy-handedly, don’t you think?
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