Séraphine (France/Belgium; 125 min.)

directed by: Martin Provost
starring:Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent, Nico Rogner, Geneviève Mnich

Bruce says: "Martin Provost’s SÉRAPHINE is an elegiac reflection on the life of a working class woman who was a gifted art naïf painter.   Séraphine Louis is her full name although in the art world she is known as Séraphine de Senlis.  Séraphine looks dour, wears the same clothes every day and ties her hair in a loose bun on top of her head.  Born into the peasant class, she is treated as such.  When asked why she does not readily respond to others she replies, 'How do you think people talk to me?' 

"Séraphine (Yolande Moreau) lives in Senlis, a small village where she is a rotating day maid for several wealthy families.  One of her employers, Mme. Duphot (Geneviève Mnich) has an apartment in her chateau which she rents out in 1914 to Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a closeted art critic who was previously instrumental in launching the careers of Picasso, Braque and Henri Rousseau.  Séraphine takes on the household duties in Uhde’s apartment although she goes about her tasks silently.  When she isn’t scrubbing floors, opening shutters to air the living quarters and serving meals, Séraphine spends all her time alone.  She wanders through meadows, sits in large trees, bathes in the local stream, and gathers items that she uses to color her own paints.  She gets liver water at the butcher’s and candle wax at the cathedral.   At home she mixes her ingredients using a mortar and pestle.  With her meager wages she does buy some art supplies from a local merchant.  When she paints – often all night long – she uses a brush but her fingers do most of the work, squishing and sliding the paint around the surface. 

"Uhde has an eye.  When he spots a painting in Mme. Duphot’s quarters he inquires as to its origins.  'Oh that’s Séraphine’s,' she says dismissively.  'Could I have it?' He asks.  Mme. Duphot is baffled.  Certainly she does not mention that she told Séraphine, 'You are wasting your time,' when Séraphine brought in the painting to show her mistress.  Uhde buys the painting and it marks the beginning of Séraphine’s journey towards becoming a well-known artist.  Paradoxically Uhde is her champion; however, he deserts her twice.   Uhde leaves France during the war and returns to find Séraphine.  He supports her financially but she gets delusions of grandeur as she slowly deteriorates into madness, the brink of which she had been narrowly avoiding for many years.   He is unsupportive once she is institutionalized. 

"As biopics go, SÉRAPHINE is as elegant as one could hope for thanks to Provost’s eye for detail and a truly brilliant performance from Yolande Moreau.   Ulrich Tukur, also appearing in the recent EDEN IS WEST, captures the complexity of a German Jewish homosexual who is an influential force in modern art.   Anne Bennent as Uhde’ sister and Nico Rogner as his lover Helmut Kolle are both excellent as well.    5 cats 

"(SÉRAPHINE screened as part of the Rendezvous with French Cinema festival sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.)"

Thom says: "After watching the previews of this a few times I couldn’t find any startling reason to view what looked like a bore. After seeing that it landed in Bruce Kingsley’s TOP 10 for 2009 I took a plunge and I’m overjoyed I did. Pre-WWI a German art collector arrives in a small French town and he discovers that the cleaning lady for his landlady has an enormous artistic talent they he wants to develop. Through a series of unfortunate & tragic circumstances she never receives the vast acclaim she deserves after she has greatly refined her work. Séraphine de Senlis is a strange, devout, downtrodden drudge and I initially found it hard to get into her story. But with Moreau’s ever-growing grasp of her part I finally became enthralled. But, what really put it over the top was the artist’s work. I was totally unfamiliar with the painter and other than a certain similarity to all of her work I found it particularly gorgeous, captivating even. Her 'thing' was flowers and she transforms them into a dazzling beauty of colour and form that transcends the commonness of them into a validation of God. I was unable to find out what one of her works currently goes for so anyone with that private knowledge please inform! 5 cats"