Opening 31 Aug 2017
The French artist Auguste Rodin is 40 years in the year 1880 when he receives his first big state commission for The Gates of Hell, which is based on Dante's Devine Comedy. This elaborate bronze gate is meant to embellish the entrance to the new Paris Louvre. In this biopic Jaques Doillon, who also wrote the script, presents episodes of the world-renowned sculptor's complex life. Vincent Lindon (well-known in France) gives an imposing performance as the controversial genius.
The talented and enthusiastic Camille Claudel (Higelin) is an apprentice in Rodin's studio, soon becoming his muse and lover. Between stormy love scenes the two also have earnest discussions about their work methods. Camille produces her own excellent sculptures but as a woman she gets very little recognition, particularly in the shade of the great master. Her ideas and keen ambition are ahead of the times. After Camille leaves for England, Rodin finds inspiration in seducing his young models despite living with his long-time “household help” Rose Beuret (excellently acted by Séverine Caneele).
Watching the artist at his work takes up long minutes of the film, sharing his intense inner turmoil. The acceptance of his creation The Citizens of Calais took all his convincing. An interesting highlight is the struggle of Rodin's unsuccessful making of a sculpture of the famous Balzac. The authorities don't want his fat-bellied version. After much agonizing, Rodin has the ingenious idea of dipping a robe into liquid plaster and wrapping it around the overweight model, hiding the belly – and voilà, now it looks “stately”. The work gets accepted.
The film gives an insight of the late 19th century art world, incorporating some of the influential characters of the time. There is not much action but despite a slow pacing, I liked the well reflected atmosphere. The film was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. (Birgit Schrumpf)