Camille claudelBruno Dumont, one of Europe’s most consistently unsparing directors, brings us Camille Claudel 1915, which follows on in a similar vein, and remains faithful to his somewhat unforgiving approach to filmmaking. Although the historical subject matter of Camille Claudel is something of a departure for him, it is unquestionably a Dumont film.

The French biopic looks at three days in the life of French sculptress Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche), in her new home – a mental hospital. Confined to an asylum by her own family, following her break-up with Auguste Rodin, her situation is bleak and troubling. Camille must try to handle life in a mental hospital surrounded by co-inhabitants who are much less capable than herself, and with whom she cannot communicate with. It is clear that she does not belong here and the viewer can feel nothing but sympathy for the secluded and frustrated woman.

Binoche delivers a wonderful performance as Camille, conveying her feelings of being trapped in the mental hospital as she awaits a visit from her brother. She often helps the hospital staff with the other patients but there is no one to help her. Dumont’s idea was to shoot with real people suffering from mental illness and as such, Camille’s flatmates are played by actual mental patients. The film allows viewers a look into life at an asylum, everything from the daily meal time to afternoon strolls up the mountain for a beautiful view spot, as we pensively peer into this world.

Dumont’s use of an actual asylum complete with real mental patients is effective and adds to Camille Claudel’s story significantly. Claudel, tormented and paranoid but also intelligent and articulate, comes across as a brilliant artist punished for failing to understand her place in patriarchy. A film worth watching not only for Binoche’s performance, but also for the unique, rare look into life in an asylum in the early stages of the 20th century.