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Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity

1997 / 2017
Distributed by First Pond, Los Angeles, CA; 213-545-6851
Produced by Pascale Lamche
Directed by James Kent
DVD , color, 85 min.
High School - General Adult
European History, Literature, Philosophy

Reviewed by Alexander Rolfe, Technical Services Librarian, George Fox University, Newberg, OR

Date Entered: 9/6/2017

This documentary helps one understand, to some degree, the most famous exponent of existentialism. It tells the story of his life, interweaving passages from and discussion of his works. For example, after his wife (inexplicably, to him) tried to commit suicide after 10 years of an open marriage—something she had agreed to at the outset—he wrote The Fall (1957), which reveals his view of his role in this tragedy (“responsible, not guilty” as he tells his biographer). The title of the documentary comes from Camus’ own statements about Mersault in The Stranger (1946): he “never says more than he feels;” hence “the madness of sincerity.”

The filmmakers have tracked down important people for the project. Blanche Balain, his first love, says that love didn’t exist for him; he was indifferent, but would say nice things in his letters. They also interview his wife’s sister, his son Jean and his daughter Catherine, as well as close friends and Camus scholars.

All of their interviews are illuminating. We learn about the major events of his life, such as his Nobel Prize, his break with Sartre, and the unpopularity of his remarks on the Algerian revolution. We also learn about his virtues and failings. The documentary closes by reading snippets from the letters he wrote to several different lovers he expected to see shortly, before setting out on his fatal drive home from Paris. It’s fittingly ignoble, and sad. Yet after an hour and a half learning at Camus’ feet, one doesn’t feel it much, but instead feels…indifferent.

This is a 1997 video recently transferred to DVD, so the video quality and sound is not up to modern standards, but it’s perfectly usable.