Cannes biopic on Rodin - distant sculptor

By Moira Sullivan

Many of the films at this year’s anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival held between May 17 and May 28 were not outstanding and there were several screenings I attended by veteran directors that were disappointing. Perhaps the festival put more emphasis on the parties for the celebrities who were invited, rather than the films that 4,000 journalists were there to critique. However, it is really a case of this is what directors are turning out, directors that return to the festival based on past laurels that have proven successful - accomplished directors that this year did not make the grade for high quality.

The first disappointment would be Rodin, a biopic on the sculptor Auguste Rodin directed by Jacques Doillon. The film was to open in theaters all over France the day it was screened at Cannes. The reaction by the audience was a universal boo. Now that Camille Claudel has been the subject of feature narratives, the lover of Rodin, Doillon takes a look at the sculptor who used women’s bodies as clay to mold for his sculptures. Although he also was fascinated by trees and liked to feel their shape, it is the feel of women who gave him the inspiration for his sculptures.

Doillon's film takes great lengths to portrait the uncomfortable poses young women are forced to make for his sculptures; in exchange for being the object of his work they have the honor of being his temporary lovers. All of them dream the same – to come to him at night. He is nothing to look at (played by Vincent Lindon) a 50+ man with a scraggly graying bushy beard and short hair, a pot belly, always dressed in a white smock that hides his body shape. The young women who surround him are usually nude. The two women who are clothed are his wife Rose (Séverine Caneel), depicted as an earthy peasant woman who loves dolls, and Camille (Izïa Higelin), his art student who in time claims he has stolen ideas from her. He most certainly has. As her demands for domesticity in this narrative increase, Rodin becomes distant turning to his nudes, putting them in grotesque positions that look as unnatural as his sculptures -  though they are have been historically been considered by male art critics as beautiful for their plastic depth.

Two projects are taken to task in Rodin. The Gates of Hell which required an elaborate mass of nude women, and during this time he attempts to create a statue of Balzac. The model for Balzac was a pregnant woman but Rodin was not satisfied and decided to throw his smock over the corpulent body. The statue of the famous writer was never popular and is now outdoors at an art museum in Japan where young children play, oblivious to Balzac. This is shown in an end note to the film.

The film began as a documentary directed by a man who knew very little about Rodin and with his fictive treatment attempts to bring him alive – as such, a womanizer and figurehead of modern sculpture. Doillon wanted the bodies to speak in the film but what is seen unfortunately is the male gaze of the cinematic style and the script, where women are subordinate to men. There are two cameras used and Doillon wanted to make the film mobile and dance around the actors. It was not uncommon for him to do 14 takes on a scene.

Claudel and Rodin are lovers for 10 years and we see them in love, but not in the collapse of their relationship. When Claudel presumably goes mad she is off camera. Doillon’s film does nothing to improve the reputation of Rodin so the thought is, did he want to take him off his reverent pedestal with this film?

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/14/17
Movie Magazine International