It's a very different portrayal to that of Isabelle Adjani in Bruno Nuytten's more conventional 1988 biopic Camille Claudel. Binoche brings out the inherent tragedy in Camille's inability to express herself artistically. The fire once reserved for art is now diverted to rage, depression and blame; she is a woman imprisoned in every sense. Much is made in film circles of Dumont's purported austerity. But it's a peculiar form of austerity; one which allows for agitation and confrontation within the bounds of its starkness. Yes, there are Dreyer-like moments of cold, harsh reflection, but there are also moments where the director forces the hopelessness of Camille's situation on audiences.
Claudel's fellow patients are helpless in a different way; they are genuinely unwell, shouting and wailing uncontrollably. They are shot in full frames, imposed on the audience and Camille. It's a twisted subversion of cinema as the empathy machine; we should be compassionate, but the technique transforms the situation into a confrontation. It's undoubtedly problematic, but it has an undeniable, ruthless efficiency. Camille Claudel 1915's final act, with its focus on Paul, is a drag on the picture, feeling artificial and overly theatrical. Binoche is astonishing; Dumont should have loathed to abandon her for Vincent.
This review was originally published on 14 October 2013 as part of our extensive BFI London Film Festival coverage.
Craig Williams | @CraigFilm