I challenge anyone to find a quieter, more sorrowful film this year than Bruno Dumont’s micro-portrait of the existentially-troubled sculptress Camille Claudel 1915. Dumont, rigorously eschewing melodrama, loony-bin movie trappings and the vagaries of soundtrack (kept under tow until the film’s closing credits), figuratively throwing a veil of silence over the film that at its most muted moments, I could hear the watch wrapped around my wrist ticking to the point of intrusion. Silence is the film’s most pronounced aspect, and the most maddening element to the tragic figure of Claudel – whose total confinement in a church-run asylum in Avignon is excruciatingly stripping away her conscionable humanity, shunted by her family for her purported crime of ‘madness’. It is silence, of both surroundings and human communication, that edges Claudel into unparalleled despair – something that Dumont uses so effectively that every time Juliette Binoche launches into a raging monologue or crushingly existential cri de coeur, the deafening stasis of life here is flouted, temporarily broken.
This is my entry to Dumont’s work, as I haven’t seen any of his previous efforts to my shame, rendering my opinions of this film as merely infinitesimal. But it’s safe to say that Camille Claudel 1915 is a work deeply embedded in the cinematic tradition. Dumont’s rigorous shots is Hanekean in approach and his intentionally confrontational gaze reminds us of the late Robert Bresson, whose The Passion of Joan of Arc is a huge influence. In the film’s standout scene, where Claudel is visited by her fiercely Catholic writer-brother Paul Claudel, Binoche’s face ultimately becomes character, story and purpose all at once, Maria Falconetti-style, with the camera creeping up to the actor’s face leaving no wrinkle, mournful tear and profound pain uncovered making Anne Hathaway’s 3-minute wonder in Les Misérables look like rehearsed school dramaturgy. It’s an intense, soul-baring performance from Binoche, who once again proved she’s at the peak of her calibre given weighty roles such as Claudel.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Bruno Dumont | CAST: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, Emmanuel Kauffman | SCREENPLAY: Bruno Dumont | DISTRIBUTOR: Soda Pictures| RUNNING-TIME: 97 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: France