Séraphine

"Very Good"

Séraphine Review


As French na?ve painter Séraphine Louis, Yolande Moreau dominates Martin Provost's Séraphine like Séraphine's "secret red" color dominates her emotionally pure canvases splashed with flowers and fruits.

Moreau is by turns frumpy, impish, poetic and beatific in her portrayal of the innocent, doomed artist. The actress soaks in the beauty of Provost's mannered compositions, and her expressions of unmediated rapture at the sublime countryside around her infuses the film with the religious ecstasy of pure artistic creation. Séraphine advises a character in the film, "When I feel bad I go for a walk in the country and I touch the trees and I talk to the birds, the flowers, the insects... and I feel better." As Séraphine, Moreau makes a strong case for modern day pantheism as a cure for all our daily woes.

And it almost cures the film. Provost's film charts the discovery of Séraphine in the small French town of Senlis in 1914 by the famed German art collector and gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), who is spending some time away from Paris and staying at a country retreat where Séraphine is his housekeeper and cook.

Séraphine is first seen trudging through the woods before dawn, the moon shining through cracked branches of the trees, beginning a long day of backbreaking domestic labor, scrubbing floors, preparing meals, cleaning rooms, and taking in laundry. Provost lets the reality of Séraphine as an artist take hold gradually as she goes about her daily tasks, with hints that Séraphine is more than a domestic servant dropped into the mix like pigments. She furtively hides soil in her apron, saves blood from a butcher in a hidden bottle, pours the wax remains of church candles into a container. And it is a good twenty minutes into the film until it is finally revealed that Séraphine is squirreling away all these ingredients in order to concoct homegrown paint for her canvases. Her compulsions tag her as either an artist or a madwoman. In her case, it is a bit of both.

Uhde discovers one of Séraphine's canvases at a pompous dinner party of artistic snobs where table conversation consists of mockery for impressionist paintings ("lunatics who paint like six-year olds"). Uhde vehemently objects to the tenor or the dinner conversation and quickly snatches up Séraphine's completed paintings and promising her artistic fame as Séraphine scrubs the floor around him. But then World War I intervenes and the German Uhde has to make a quick escape from a rabid anti-German France. But returning to France in 1927, Uhde searches out Séraphine and bankrolls her as her patron. Séraphine finally experiences some modicum of artistic acceptance and fame until the Depression hits and she lapses into dementia.

As Stephen Sondheim points out in Sunday in the Park with George, "a painter paints," and that is what Séraphine has to do. She works like a dog but ekes out whatever time she has left from her daily drudgery and paints. And Provost certainly captures this necessity of creative expression by depicting it as an obsession or a disease, locking in on choker close-ups of Séraphine in the darkness or her room, banging away and preparing paint or smudging the colors onto her canvas with her fingers. But the acting helps and Moreau's intensity burns through the bleak night world of Séraphine's creativity.

Moreau also has to burn through Provost's well-heeled mannerism. Very much a shiny example of the old-fashioned, well-made type of French film that the New Wave filmmakers disparaged in the late 1950s, Provost's compositions are all clean, studied, and beautiful. Moreau, in her dowdy blue hat and shawl, galumphs through these quality landscapes like Chaplin might have done if he were in a post-WWII George Stevens movie. And thank God for that.

Moreau's presence acts as an antidote to all the pretension that surrounds her and she works overtime to surmount Provost's French Academy arrangements. The real life Séraphine's paintings were very much like Moreau's performance here -- cries of passion and intensity in a world of careful, unemotional perfectionism.

If the French town of Senlis really looks like Provost's beautiful and painterly world as he depicts it in Séraphine, no wonder Séraphine Louis went nuts.

Try the burnt umber.



Séraphine

Facts and Figures

Run time: 125 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 1st October 2008

Box Office USA: $0.6M

Distributed by: Music Box Films

Production compaines: TS Productions, Diaphana Films, Roissy Films, Canal+

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Martin Provost

Producer: Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto

Starring: as Séraphine Louis, dite Séraphine de Senlis, as Wilhelm Uhde, Anne Bennent as Anne-Marie Uhde, Geneviève Mnich as Mme Duphot, Nico Rogner as Helmut Kolle, Adélaïde Leroux as Minouche

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.