Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Review/Film; 'Camille Claudel,' a Soul's Disintegration
Published: December 22, 1989

LEAD: Gerard Depardieu is not only the greatest, most enthusiastic film actor in France, he is also the most generous. Since 1971, he has made 64 movies, good, bad, great and indifferent.

Gerard Depardieu is not only the greatest, most enthusiastic film actor in France, he is also the most generous. Since 1971, he has made 64 movies, good, bad, great and indifferent.

Some people give time, bone marrow or blood to help their friends. Mr. Depardieu appears in their movies. Without him, there might be no French film industry.

There would certainly be no ''Camille Claudel,'' at least no ''Camille Claudel'' that one could survive without the frequent administration of the Heimlich maneuver.

Mr. Depardieu makes it safe to watch this gaudy, overstuffed movie biography without either choking to death or splitting one's sides. Indeed, when he is on the screen (and sometimes even when he is off), the movie is one of the most thoroughly entertaining bad movies ever made.

''Camille Claudel'' arrives here having been an enormous box-office hit in France, where it also won five Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscar), including those for best picture and best actress. Given a little bit of help, it should find an audience in this country. Schmaltz of this ripe order is irresistible.

The true auteur of the film is Isabelle Adjani, who was instrumental in its production and who plays the title role.

Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was the talented, beautiful, deeply troubled French sculptor who, for a comparatively brief period in her youth, was the collaborator and mistress of the greatest sculptor of the 19th century, Auguste Rodin, twice her age at the time they met.

In the years after she was dropped by Rodin, Claudel became convinced that members of ''Rodin's gang'' were out to steal her ideas and to ruin her reputation and her life. At first she was merely eccentric. Once, to make a point, she sent a package of cat excrement to the minister of culture. There seems to be no doubt that she was later deranged.

In 1913, she was committed to an insane asylum by her mother and her younger brother, Paul, the ardently Roman Catholic poet and playwright. She remained institutionalized for 30 years, until her death at the age of 78.

It's clear why Miss Adjani was attracted to the biography of this sad, benighted woman, whose artistic reputation is currently being revised upward by some critics.

As presented here, Camille's story is ''The Story of Adele H.'' (still Miss Adjani's best film) as it might be if it had been directed by the star and not by Francois Truffaut. Among other things, Camille Claudel, like Adele H., goes photogenically mad, but before she is packed off to the bin there are a lot of fancy exchanges about Art, almost nonstop ecstasy and agony, some steamy if tasteful sex and a soundtrack score that will not quit.

When Miss Adjani's young, virginal Camille offers herself to Mr. Depardieu's panting Auguste, the music makes it seem as if primal forces are about to explode. The lovers embrace, and the only thing missing is a mushroom cloud.

''Camille Claudel'' is an old-fashioned, romantic star vehicle covering nearly 30 years in Camille's life, though she never ages a day.

One knows what to expect at the movie's beginning when Miss Adjani makes her star entrance, more or less piecemeal. It is the middle of the night. She's first seen from the back, a cloaked figure madly digging precious clay out of a Paris ditch. As she returns to her studio, the camera follows, viewing her only from the knees down. Inside the studio, her face is seen in deep shadow. When at last the sun comes up, Miss Adjani is revealed in all of her full and glorious beauty. The play commences. Mr. Depardieu, though not on the screen throughout, makes an arresting Rodin, whether or not he bears much resemblance to the man he portrays. Only an actor of his heft and presence could play such a subsidiary role without being overwhelmed by his co-star. His Rodin is a funny, arrogant, passionate man, whose refusal to leave his aging common-law wife (Daniele Lebrun) for the younger Camille somehow seems perfectly understandable under the circumstances.

The movie is most dizzily fun when it is being most discreetly high-toned. ''Don't rely on inspiration,'' Rodin advises Camille. ''It doesn't exist.'' Rodin doesn't initially look at a piece of sculpture. He feels it with great, sensitive hands. ''Never think of surfaces, only of depths,'' he tells her.

He gives her a block of Paros marble, which is a test of sorts since it shatters so easily. Seemingly overnight she sculpts an oversized man's foot, the workmanship of which astonishes him. To movie audiences, though, it looks awfully like the plaster foot that Michael Palin wanted to hang outside his chiropodist's shop in ''A Private Function.''

''Camille Claudel'' can't help being comic at the wrong moments.

The movie also has a way of congratulating the audience for any little bit of knowledge about Rodin it might bring into the theater. One doesn't have to be a student to recognize a cast of ''The Thinker'' on the far side of Rodin's studio, or to get the point during the following exchange. She: ''Your Balzac is a noble idea.'' He: ''It's made me the laughingstock of Paris.''

Bruno Nuytten, best known as a cameraman (''Going Places,'' ''Barocco''), makes his debut as the director of ''Camille Claudel,'' for which he also wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Marilyn Goldin.

Miss Adjani looks magnificent even when she's supposed to be a mess. The movie, like Rodin, has a special fondness for the nape of her neck. The movie is not crazy.

''Camille Claudel'' opens today at the Paris Theater. Feet of Clay CAMILLE CLAUDEL, directed by Bruno Nuytten; screenplay by Mr. Nuytten and Marilyn Goldin, based on the biography of Camille Claudel by Reine-Marie Paris; director of photography, Pierre Lhomme; edited by Jeanne Kef and Joelle Hache; music by Gabriel Yared; a co-production of Films Christian Fechner/Lilith Films I.A./Gaumont/A2 TV France/Films A2/D.D. Productions; released by Orion Classics. At the Paris, 4 West 58th Street. Running time: 149 minutes. This film is rated R. Camille Claudel ... Isabelle Adjani Auguste Rodin ... Gerard Depardieu Paul ... Laurent Grevill Louis-Prosper Claudel ... Alain Cuny Louise-Athanaise Claudel ... Madeleine Robinson Jessie Lipscomb ... Katrine Boorman Rose Beuret ... Daniele Lebrun Eugene Blot ... Philippe Clevenot Louise ... Aurelle Doazan Victoire ... Madeleine Marie

Movie Review
Camille Claudel (1988)
December 22, 1989

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