Archive for May 15th, 2011

This 1988 French Academy Award Winning Foreign Film documents the rise and fall of a determined yet forgotten artist.

Camille Claudel was not only an exceptionally gifted sculptor but was Auguste Rodin’s muse and lover. Audiences get a rare glimpse into the secretive life of a woman who was intelligent, strong, complex, and passionate. We learn about her early years struggling as a young artist rummaging for materials and creating sculpture casts of half naked men. This was a very novel and brave practice during this time, considering she was a woman living during the nineteenth century.

Auguste Rodin recognizes her unique talent and hires her to work in his workshop. The two fall in love and Rodin sets up a place for Claudel. Unfortunately, the relationship is doomed from the start considering Rodin will not leave Rose Beuret. Claudel begins to become disenchanted with Rodin not only because he is unwilling to leave his partner but also because he will not construct some of his own work. Although he would come up with the ideas, he made his many hired hands do the actual work. At times he would simply put a signature on the finished product, sort of like Salvador Dali, and she despised how he would wine and dine with the wealthy social elites.

Claudel was the true bohemian artist. Living a meager existence, what kept her going was the inspiration and need to create. Although she hates Rodin, she cannot let him go. Her thoughts are constantly centered on him and it comes out through her sculptures. Scenes of heartache, longing, and despair are produced. What is evoked is energy, passion, simplicity, purity, and gracefulness. Because of the break-up, Claudel begins to unravel emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Living in squalor with several dozen cats, she spends her days drinking and neglecting her art work. Fortunately, an art dealer still has faith in her and her artistic abilities and sets up a solo exhibit. Attendees of the exhibit are not ready to handle the beautifully emotional sculptures, nor can they accept such an eccentric woman. They begin to mercilessly gossip about her personal life and critique her pieces. At the end of the night no piece is sold. They are not ready for Camille Claudel.

Having to always justify her way of life and love for creating, Claudel’s mother can never accept this idea. Seeing that her mental faculties are deteriorating and her assets are dwindling Claudel’s mother takes the initiative and has her daughter committed. Sadly, Claudel spends the rest of her thirty years of existence in a mental asylum.

This is a very powerful film not only because audience members visually have the chance to see a woman who defied all odds but also because of the great emotional impact it has. Isabelle Adjani’s performance is incredible. She brings to life a mythical woman who’s genius unfortunately is under appreciated and at times forgotten. It makes one wonder if it was Claudel who influenced Rodin or if Rodin influenced Claudel?

Rodin (Left)
Claudel (Right)

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