Binoche plays tragic sculptress Claudel in new film

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:32am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN (Reuters) - The story of French sculptress Camille Claudel is almost impossibly sad, and Juliette Binoche attempts to portray that tragedy in a new film set in an asylum where the actress performs alongside mentally disabled patients.

"Camille Claudel 1915", in competition at the Berlin film festival, depicts three days in the life of an artist who spent her last 29 years in a mental institution in southern France, confined against her will by her family.

Director Bruno Dumont set the action in 1915, because it meant Binoche's age would coincide with that of Claudel at that time, just beginning her stay at the asylum at Montdevergues.

He and Binoche based their research on medical notes and letters between Camille and her brother, the renowned poet and devout Catholic Paul Claudel, who was the only member of her family to visit her, and even then only occasionally.

"I read everything that she'd written," said French actress Binoche, an Oscar winner in "The English Patient", of her research for the role.

"I steeped myself in her character and writings and there was a nothingness there, an abandonment, the absence of sculpture, the absence of the family, the absence of affection, the absence of violence," the 48-year-old told reporters.

In the film, despair, depression and uncontrollable tears are mixed with girlish excitement at the prospect of an impending visit from Paul.

The plot builds up to their meeting, during which Camille begs her brother to free her. But the pious and pompous Paul ignores both her and the head of the asylum who recommends she should return to normal society.   Continued...

Fans react as actress Juliette Binoche arrives at the red carpet for the screening of the movie "Camille Claudel 1915" at the 63rd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch