Life is short, and Camille Claudel is awfully long (149 minutes). This biography of Auguste Rodin’s mistress (Isabelle Adjani), a sculptress who scandalized Paris in the latter half of the 19th century and went insane in the first half of the 20th, is sensual but rambling, dramatic yet attenuated. Since his subject is sculpture, cinematographer-turned-director Bruno Nyutten stresses surfaces, shapes, and shadings, but too often at the expense of character detail, nuance, and narrative momentum. The movie is almost a parody of a historical film made by a French intellectual: astonishingly accurate, photographically stunning, and unrelievedly moody and intense.
Ultimately, the success of any film biography relies on its star. The ravishing Adjani, who earned an Oscar nomination for this, turns in a large-scale performance, alternately poignant and gritty. Her Camille has the shock and surprise of a spontaneous creation. Rodin, played by an unusually lifeless Gérard Depardieu, emerges as a fatuous bourgeois who happens to be a genius as well. The unbearable irony is that Camille’s obsession for him smothered her own artistic ambitions and finally destroyed them. That’s fine and that’s heartwrenching. It just takes such a long time to occur. C+