EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|SERAPHINE (director/writer: Martin Provost; screenwriter: Marc Abdelnour; cinematographer: Laurent Brunet; editor: Ludo Troch; music: Michael Galasso; cast: Yolande Moreau (Séraphine Louis), Ulrich Tukur (Wilhelm Uhde), Anne Bennent (Anne Marie), Geneviève Mnich (Madame Duphot), Nico Rogner (Helmut), Adélaïde Leroux (Minouche), Serge Larivière (Duval), Françoise Lubrun (Mère Supérieure); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Miléna Poylo/Gilles Sacuto; Music Box Films; 2008-France-in French with English titles)|
|"Gives testimony to the human spirit."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Martin Provost ("Le ventre de Juliette")
directs and cowrites with Marc
Abdelnour this uneven mostly factual based Van Gogh like
biopic. It's exhilarating when showing lumpen primitive nature painter Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau) collecting chicken blood on the sly from
a butcher shop for mixing into her red colors, lifting her skirt in the
woods to pee while looking up at the wonders of nature with awe and
singing while finger-painting at night after mopping floors as a
cleaning lady all day. It becomes stiff with too many scenes of the
elite treating the lowly
cleaning lady Séraphine
like a speck of dirt, the bourgeois giving her their ill-informed opinions of
her paintings (in one instance saying her painting of apples doesn't
even look like apples), and the dry chronicling of her strange path to
temporary fame as an aspiring obscure artist who was discovered by, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a
wealthy emotionally detached homosexual German art critic and avant-garde gallery
owner in Paris.
In 1912 washerwoman Séraphine is hired as the maid of
upper-crust art critic Uhde, who rents a country home in Senlis, in
central France, to get away from the rigors of his Paris art gallery.
The well-heeled sophisticated collector is impressed with Séraphine's crude wood panel
paintings of fruits and flowers and becomes her patron, learning only
that she started painting in 1905, while working as a cleaning lady in
the convent, after hearing voices that the Virgin Mary wanted her to
paint nature and without any formal training made herself into a true
artist (in truth she sat in on
art classes for young ladies in
Paris, something the film fails to mention).
When Uhde has to leave in a
hurry for safety reasons at the onset of World War I and doesn't hear from the
peasant artist until he returns in 1927, where he rents a home in
nearby Chantilly. The collector has built a considerable rep for early
on collecting Picasso, Rousseau and Braque, or as his caustic critics
suggest searching for
During her patron's absence Séraphine remained a cleaning woman, but evolved as
a painter and started using big canvases. When they reconnect, the patron wants her
to give up being a maid and pays her a nice monthly stipend to have her
just be an artist. During this period of fame and money, thanks to the
efforts of Uhde to get her known, it seems that success goes to her
head and takes away her artistic edge and she goes into decline. After
the stock market crash and the world-wide Depression in the 1930s, Séraphine is disappointed she can't
get a gallery show. Driven to insanity by the harsh realities of her
life, Séraphine dons a bridal gown to walk the streets and
tells of hearing the voices of guardian angels. Institutionalized, she
remained in the asylum throughout the 1930s until her death in 1942.
But while locked up, the wily art dealer was able to sell some of her
paintings (but she was too far gone to be told this).
The film's noble purpose is
to point out that there's no one path for an artist,
that no matter how discouraging it may be the true artist has no choice
but to follow his/her heart. This odd relationship between the business
savvy talented art scout/avant-garde art dealer and the visionary
peasant artist given to lapses of madness, gives testimony to the human
spirit and the mysteries of creativity.
Veteran Belgian actress
Yolande Moreau completely inhabits in a most credible way the plump Séraphine, brilliantly
playing the devoutly religious obsessive artist and cleaning lady
who can't be bought and possesses a child-like innocence that seems
touched by a divine hand.
It won the Best Film at France’s César awards.
REVIEWED ON 2/19/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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