By Stefanie Durbin
"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
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
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"?
Camille Claudel received Academy
Awards nominations for Best Performance By an Actress in a Leading
Role (Isabelle Adjani) and Best Foreign Language Film of the Year).