“The mystery or the obscurity of insanity”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Present for the first time in competition at the Berlinale with Camille Claudel 1915, the French filmmaker deciphers his film for the international press
Present for the first time in competition at the Berlinale with Camille Claudel 1915 [+see also:
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile] (review), French filmmaker Bruno Dumont, accompanied by his leading actress Juliette Binoche, deciphers his film for the international press
Juliette Binoche contacted you because she wanted to work with you. How did the project for Camille Claudel 1915 come about?
Bruno Dumont: I thought about it for a long time. What could I offer her? I remembered that, besides being an actress, Juliette was also a painter. So, naturally, I thought about Camille Claudel because I felt there were many parallels between Juliette and Camille Claudel as people. From these parallels, we built the character.
Why is the story so tenuous?
I discovered the life of Camille Claudel as a recluse and her life in the asylum was very simple. In a movie, when the story is simple, cinematography has a great capacity for further deployment. The only thing that disturbed the routine of Camille Claudel’s life in the hospital, the only thing she could look forward to, her only source of joy, was a visit from her brother. So I wrote the screenplay around one of Paul’s visits.
How did you approach the borderline between insanity and reality?
When I read Camille Claudel’s correspondence, what struck me was the way she spoke of her environment: it was always painful for her. This was a woman who found living in close quarters with other people unbearable. And all this time spent in this heart-rending world of mental illness made her suffer very deeply. I wondered how I could recreate these conditions. I immediately wanted to work with mentally disabled people. I found a psychiatrist who worked on art therapy; I set up a casting session and met the patients. Some of them had a sufficient degree of awareness to give their agreement, others were autistic and could not, so their family gave it to me. Juliette spent quite a lot of time with them, to create bonds. The actors and I took a step forward towards these people, and the misconceptions we all can have about insanity quickly fell away. So at the same time, the movie is almost like a documentary about the real nature of their illnesses. I decided to film with the nurses around because we needed some medical staff in attendance during the shooting. I accepted their illnesses, so they act out what they are. This was the very least that was needed to understand the mystery or the obscurity of insanity, the misery, sadness, degradation and tragedy of Camille’s life.
Why such an austere opening?
A certain sense of dazzlement can be born from austerity. A spectator’s time-frame is an hour-and-a-half, and to be really dazzled, you have to go through all the various stages. If there is no coldness or warmth, you cannot feel true heat. The harshness of the conditions in which Camille lived had to be experienced. She talked about it, wrote about it, she wept about it. Then, slowly, the film moves towards speech. I didn't want to be ruthless, but some steps were essential to move towards a form of paroxysm and grace, even if she suffers. Insanity is funny and very sad, burlesque and tragic. And in a way, that's what cinema is; taking a spectator and plunging him into harshness, then lifting him up towards grace. You cannot make a movie where everything is always flat, nor can it be about grace all the time. You have to take your time, with small things that the spectator will gradually elucidate. He has to make his own way, because the cinema is an art in which time is of the essence. It is not the instant, it is not intellectual, nor is it ideas: it is taking things gradually to the boil.