Veteran French writer-director Jacques Doillon was apparently approached by producers suggesting he make a documentary to mark the centenary of the birth of Auguste Rodin. Though Doillon was by his own admission no devotee of the great sculptor’s work, he initially accepted the assignment but soon decided it would be better to make a fiction feature instead. Perhaps, however, he should have avoided the subject altogether.
‘Rodin’ is elegantly shot (by Christophe Beaucarne) and designed, but it is also plodding and unilluminating. It begins in 1880, when Rodin (the estimable but here unremarkable Vincent Lindon) has just received his first state commission to create ‘The Gates of Hell’, based on Dante’s ‘Inferno’. His pupil, assistant and, pretty soon, his mistress is Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin), an artist of no mean talent herself but one who will eventually be undone not only by her own psychological/emotional turmoil but by the lack of recognition afforded her as a woman working in the shadow of the increasingly famous Rodin. The film sort of deals with the rise and fall of their relationship – but then again it doesn’t, really.
Indeed, the script – chronologically linear yet disjointed, averse to melodrama yet often clichéd in a ‘hello Monet, hello Rilke’ kind of way – is deeply inadequate. It never sheds sufficient light on the Rodin-Claudel relationship, on the personality of either individual, on the society they lived in, or on the creative process itself. Yes, we’re told that Rodin loved clay and learned everything from Chartres carvings, trees and cloud formations, but so perfunctory are the script, direction and acting that we are expected to take that on trust.
Likewise, the genius of Camille Claudel has been better served in the past by films centred on fine performances by Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche. Those earlier films tells us quite a bit about art, love, life, passion, fear, the world; Doillon’s more pedestrian and pedantic trawl through Rodin’s middle period is nowhere near as engrossing. It’s a shame; even Lindon fans may find this offers less than meets the eye.