Based on certain known elements in the professional and personal life of sculptor Auguste Rodin, the film, written and directed by Jacques Doillon, is a richly imaginative dramatization of what the filmmaker conjures as intimate details. Since neither he nor the rest of us were there, starting in Paris in 1880, we are invited to relate to Doillon’s screenplay.
One advantage the writer-director has is the casting of the excellent actor Vincent Lindon, who, properly bearded, is introduced to us when he is hard at work at the age of forty. But don’t think Rodin was all art and no play. The film flits between his turbulent personal life and his ahead-of-its time work that came in for heavy criticism.
There is his long-time relationship with Rose (Séverine Caneele), whom he ultimately married, and his mistress, sculptor Camille Claudet (Izïa Higelin). We see Rose furiously jealous of Camille, who in turn is not only exasperated by Rodin not leaving Rose for her, but believes he is stealing her ideas while her work is being overshadowed by his.
Doillon elaborates on the hostility with which Rodin’s work is often greeted by those who prefer more conventional art. His unusual sculpture of the writer Balzac is ridiculed. Rodin also has his defenders who recognize his efforts to pave the way toward new visions of sculpture. In the process there are various references to his work, including “The Gates of Hell.”
Much is made of depicting Rodin as someone clued into nature and given to reflection meant to enable him to take flight in his conceptions. He struggles to concentrate on his work, resenting being torn between his personal commitments or lack of them.
In the best scenes between him and Camille, they have a delightfully romantic playfulness revealing affection leading up to sex. It would seem that basically they are really meant for one another. Yet, as what is known reveals, Camille’s life took a downward spiral after she parted from Rodin.
The sculptor is shown to be in the frequent presence of nude models whom he sketches for his work, and at one point, in an illustration of his trying to escape attachment, he retreats behind a closed door for a threesome with two women throwing themselves at him.
Art historians recognize him as a pioneer of modern sculpture. The film “Rodin” attempts to show the entwinement of his creativity and sexuality, and although biopic clichés are there, ‘Rodin” is often compelling, especially with regard to his battle for proper recognition. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed June 1, 2018.