"Miss Claudel has become a master."
"She has the talent of a man."
"She's a witch."
And so Auguste Rodin and friends neatly sum up the sad trajectory of Camille Claudel's career.
We first meet the sculptor as she digs clay with bare fingers from a frozen ditch, in the winter of 1885. By the time the film leaves her, in 1913, she's an acclaimed, if socially scorned, artist who's been committed to an asylum.
In the interim, Claudel (Isabelle Adjani) falls in love with the famous, older, womanizing Rodin (Gérard Depardieu). Claudel abandons her work to assist the creatively bankrupt Rodin, filling in as his muse, assistant, and lover. When pregnancy forces Claudel to ask him to choose between her and his longtime mistress, he won't, she leaves, and their alliance ends. This proves to be the turning point for Claudel's mental health; when her affair with Rodin ends, she begins her intimacy with insanity.
As her madness blooms, so do her long-neglected sculptures, which seem to come to life in her hands and arms. Not only a potent love story, Camille Claudel is also an account of art and its wellsprings, and this is where it excels, especially when we witness Claudel's manic genius at work, driven by the necessity to externalize her emotions in the forms of her sculptures.
In the end, the viewer wonders about the causes of Claudel's madness: was it genes, or her reaction against society's mores, or the product of Rodin's persecution? Or, as one exasperated family member terms it, was it "the madness of mud"?
From private collection
In French with yellow English subtitles
From private collection In nice shape