Indie spotlight: 'Camille Claudel, 1915' and 'Haunter'
In this week's New York City indie/art house releases, Juliette Binoche stars in "Camille Claudel, 1915" and Abigail Breslin plays a ghost in "Haunter."
'Camille Claudel, 1915'
French filmmaker Bruno Dumont once specialized in ascetic, punishing movies that rubbed viewers in humanity's worst. (His sophomore effort, “Humanité,” actually began with a lengthy close-up of a corpse's vagina.) He's cooled down a bit, and not coincidentally gotten even better. Although no “Hadewijch” - his 2009 look at a nun so devout she finds herself hobnobbing with jihadists - his latest does net him Juliette Binoche. The Oscar-winner huffs and grumbles up a storm as Claudel, the sculptor and graphic artist who was driven mad by jilting lover Rodin. Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu once starred in a tasteful three-hour version of her story, but Dumont only picks a portion of a year, soon after she had been carted off to a dingy and oppressive rural psychiatric hospital. There, she tries to allege her sanity while still claiming that Rodin, who at this point she hasn't seen in 20 years, is trying to poison her food.
Dumont tends to work with non-pros, but he uses Binoche in part as an experiment, casting her alongside non-pros whose conditions are significantly worse than Camille's. Much of the film dwells on how much she sticks out, with long takes dwelling on patients she finds alternately irritating and endearing. (In his questionable use of real-life “freaks,” Dumont isn't all that different from Harmony Korine.) The director's usual religious obsessions finally come to the forefront when Camille's eerily confident brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) - a poet and dramatist whose work is marked by its fervent Catholicism - briefly takes over the narrative, thus steering the focus to whether Camille's condition is part of God's will. It's a film about entrapment, whether by an incompetent, unforgiving bureaucracy or something bigger.
Well, it certainly sounds nifty: The latest from Vincenzo Natali - a Canadian genre mixologist who gave us the strained but fun “Cube” and the strained but crazed “Splice” - is a ghost story that starts where something like “The Others” leaves off. Abigail Breslin plays Lisa, a teenager who's dead. She knows that, and she knows that she's living the same day - her final day - every day. The rest of her family, also killed by a demon (Stephen McHattie), does not. Their murderer wants to kill another family, and Lisa slowly builds up the power to thwart him. All the pieces are in place for another clever Natali entry. Only the script takes too long spinning in place, the mechanics of this world are half-defined and Breslin's character remains underdeveloped. Without distraction, attention can drift to the poor, cheesy lo-fi effects, which look as shifty as they did in Natali's “Cypher,” but without the relentlessly nutty plot twists that jerk us merrily around.