Mon dieu and zut alors! Zee Franch, zey are a funny peeple, non?
No. They're not very funny at all in "Camille Claudel" (opening at the Charles today), the two-hour film biography of the French sculptress who slept with and fought with Auguste Rodin and ended her days with a three-decade stint in the madhouse. There's enough artistic suffering in this film -- crying and gnashing and freezing and going mad and being cold and dirty -- to stuff a Christmas goose with.
Still, it's not quite as overdramatized as it might have been, nor as high toned. The director, Bruno Nuytten (why do I want to write "Nuytten, honey"?) is working with great stars and a lot of money and a lot of time (the plot synopsis in the press notes is 4 1/2 pages long!) and he gets the most out of all of it.
Camille is played with neurotic artistic intensity and no sentimentality by Isabel Adjani; the great Rodin by a surprisingly dumpy Gerard Depardieu. Between them, these two make art the way Rommel made war -- all out, taking no prisoners.
Their mad gyre may be reduced to cliche -- he trained her, then feared her, then tried to destroy her -- and it's the typical mentor-mentee relationship. When it turns out she's better than he is, it scares the starch out of him.
Nuytten does a wonderful job in creating milieu: France during the age of heroic artistry, the late 19th century, when her art reigned supreme in the world and a figure such as Rodin could become a Warren Beatty of his day -- confidant of politicians, epic seducer of young women, charismatic boulevardier and, finally, self-doubting chump.
But the movie never becomes lugubrious, despite the dense emotionalism of its materials, because both stars resist the temptation to overact, and the editors, Jeanne Kef and Joelle Hache, keep the movie rushing along at a helter-skelter pace. There's no pausing to cry over spilt milk or broken marble; there's no pausing at all.
Starring Isabel Adjani and Gerard Depardieu
Directed by Bruno Nuytten
Released by Orion Classics