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‘Camille Claudel 1915’: 3 days in the life of a caged artist

Juliette Binoche (left with AlexandrLucas) plays title role sculptress stuck an asylum “Camille Claudel 1915.”  |   KINO

Juliette Binoche (left, with Alexandra Lucas) plays the title role, a sculptress stuck in an asylum, in “Camille Claudel 1915.” | KINO LORBER

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Camille Claudel Juliette Binoche

Paul Claudel Jean-Luc Vincent

Kino Lorber presents a film written and directed by Bruno Dumont. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 91 minutes. No MPAA rating (contains fleeting female nudity). Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Updated: March 15, 2014 6:11AM

In “Camille Claudel 1915,” French actress Juliette Binoche brings to life French sculptress Camille Claudel (1864-1943). Fugitive eye movements and tremulous smiles channel her lucid, troubled soul. Binoche’s pale and bony face evokes the white marble Claudel once chiseled as a student and lover of the celebrated sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Writer-director Bruno Dumont sets the film during three days of Claudel’s 29-year stay in an asylum. Her brother (Jean-Luc Vincent), with mystic Catholic leanings, promises to visit. Both characters deliver monologues based on letters written by their historical counterparts. As in his incisive dramas “Outside Satan” (2011) and “Hadewijch” (2009), Dumont peers into the psyche of a woman in a transcendental crisis.

Isabelle Adjani played the sculptress in the 1988 French film “Camille Claudel,” which ends in 1913 when her family commits Claudel to an asylum. That biopic was based on a book by Claudel’s grand-niece, who claims Henrik Ibsen’s 1899 play “When We Dead Awaken” was based on Claudel and Rodin. The sculptress’ ill-starred career later inspired a musical and an operatic drama.

“Camille Claudel 1915” lacks flashbacks to Claudel sculpting her sensual nudes, loving Rodin (24 years her senior) or descending into mental illness with all her cats. Dumont does not look ahead to her 1943 demise in a Vichy-run hospital that starved patients to death.

Instead Dumont imagines how Claudel reconciles her brilliant past in Paris art circles with the boredom of her present isolation among nuns and the insane. We get a parable of individualism and its perils for a turn-of-the-20th century woman, one proclaimed by a critic of her time “a revolt against nature: a woman genius.”

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