Screened as part of NZIFF 2009
This movingly dramatised, beautifully mounted portrait of the French ‘naïve’ painter Séraphine de Senlis (1864–1942) was the deserved winner at France’s César Awards this February, sweeping up the prizes for Best Film, Actress, Original Screenplay, Photography, Score, Costumes and Production Design. The marvellous Belgian actress Yolande Moreau vanishes into the role of the awkward small town housemaid who believed God had told her to paint. We first encounter her furtively gathering soil, animal’s blood and the run-off oil from church candles to mix the paints she has invented for herself. She’s like a pagan spirit, trapped in her heavy body and the cumbersome skirts of a century ago. But when she paints, that spirit flies free in ecstatic celebration of flowers, fruit and fertility itself. The intensity of these paintings, now considered masterpieces of modern primitivism, can still be experienced in galleries around the world.
Martin Provost’s film focuses on her relationship with her ‘discoverer’, the German art critic Wilhelm Uhde, who was a friend of her employer. His patronage saved her life but also catapulted her to an art world prominence she was ill-equipped to handle. Ulrich Tukur is excellent as the conscientious Uhde, enthralled by the wild talent of his protégée, intent on realising the monetary value of her work and frightfully aware of her unworldliness. — BG
“Provost’s fictionalized portrait of this forgotten painter is a revelation… A testament to creativity and the resilience of one woman’s spirit, Séraphine is a marvel – a celebration of art and nature and an acknowledgment of the costs involved.” — Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival