Saturday, October 10, 2009

Séraphine's unique vision

Séraphine is the 'true' story of Séraphine Louis de Senlis. It is a French language film about art, about sanity, and about class. She is one of the invisible people, a maid, cleaner, clothes washer and odd jobs person. She is also a painter of rare talent, an autodidact who paints because her religious voices tell her to.

This French servant of the Virgin Mary is discovered by a German agnostic, gay art collector, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur). (Uhde was an early admirer of Picasso.) Two world wars and the depression punctuate their personal and professional association. Wilhelm encourages Séraphine to develop her painting.

This is a slow but moving portrayal of this unique and little known woman. Director and co-writer Martin Provost is clearly mesmerised by her:
Séraphine is a visionary in the powerful sense of the word. She let herself be carried by something that was stronger than she was, that she did not control, at the risk of destroying herself. This moved me deeply.
Director Interview
Provost milks the French rural settings for all their beauty and tranquility. However, the 125 minutes could have been cut back without losing any of the film's emotional and intellectual impact. It's a visual feast. Séraphine's paintings are also a revelation.

The two leads are exceptionally good. Yolande Moreau lives the role in a memorable performance. Her Mary Poppins silhouette of hat, bag and umbrella graces the screen with both pathos and humour.

Her urbane patron is well captured by Tukur, presenting the gentleness and humanity that are central to the character. No Germanic stereotyping here. The supporting cast keep up the high standard.

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