Alliance Française French Film Festival Review: Rodin (France, 2017) is a dull & inert bio-pic

Auguste Rodin was a renowned French sculptor who produced works like “The Thinker” and “The Kiss”. Some people even declare this artist a genius. But the same cannot be said about his eponymous bio-pic. This French film manages to make this famous man’s life seem so hollow and pedestrian that there is more life emanating from one of his works then what plays out on the screen.

This film is written and directed by veteran filmmaker Jacques Doillon who was originally tasked with making a documentary on Rodin. Doillon is said to have meticulously researched the subject and read numerous books on the man. The attention to visual detail is obvious and the setting is utterly persuasive thanks to Katia Wyszkop’s skilful production design. The film was also shot in some of the actual locations where Rodin lived and worked. But it’s also notable that the same care and attention was not applied to the film’s plot and pacing.

We meet Rodin (a convincing Vincent Lindon) in 1880 when he is 40 years old. The sculptor had recently been commissioned to produce “The Gates Of Hell” a work that was influenced by Dante’s Inferno. It is also around this time that he embarks on a passionate love affair with his pupil-turned-muse and fellow sculptor in her own right, Camille Claudel (a luminous, Izïa Higelin.)

There is not much information provided with respect to the two main character’s back-stories or motivations. Instead this dramatic film meanders through a series of different episodes that take place at intermittent intervals over the next few decades from 1880 onwards. Lindon’s Rodin does not age at all during this time and eventually his affair with Claudel becomes a tumultuous one. Part of this is due to the fact that Rodin refuses to leave his loyal but long-suffering, matronly wife Rose played by Séverine Caneele.

Claudel eventually leaves Rodin and descends into a deteriorating mental state (something that was captured well by Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915 but is only hinted at here. The former film is not the only one to describe Claudel’s story, there was also an eponymous 1988 one by Bruno Nuytten.) The second halfof the film looks at Rodin’s life after his affair with Claudel ends. He throws himself enthusiastically into his work and continues to bed his models. There are lots of scenes with nude females holding various poses for long lengths of time. While they are comely, they fail to add the necessary colour or life that some changes to the script could have achieved in order to breathe some life into this rather dull piece.

This film is far too episodic and disjointed for its own good. So many of the scenes seem like their own stand-alone pieces. These also feel like they play out in a slowed down version of real-time before finishing by fading to black. There is no sense of cohesion or feeling that you know, empathise or want to care about the characters, especially Rodin. Instead, the overarching idea seems to be more about celebrating Rodin’s craft and complicated genius, something that makes this bio-pic feel like a tedious and repetitive hagiography at times.

Rodin may have been a great inspiration for the masses but this bio-pic certainly does not achieve these heights. In fact, it’s really not fit to hold a candle to this grand master. While it seems that Doillon had the best of intentions, the result is something too boring and long for its own benefit. In fact, you’d be better off giving it a miss and going and viewing Rodin’s works themselves because these contain more vitality, vibrancy and life than the two hour film that bears his name- now that’s something that gives you pause to think!

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Rodin screens nationally as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival from February 27. For more information and tickets please visit: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/