Séraphine

seraphine

Here’s a portrait of the artist as a middle-aged woman, marginalized by society but enraptured by a natural landscape whose ecstasies she transmuted into kinetic, enduring still-life abstractions. Writer-director Martin Provost, with co-writer Marc Abdelnour, frames this sensitive and decorous film around the tentative friendship and business arrangement between the self-taught painter Séraphine de Senlis (Yolande Moreau) and her discoverer, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a discerning German critic and collector whose rented rural French house she cleaned. A “modern primitive,” he called her then, on the eve of the first World War, and in retrospect today she seems like the grandmama of all outsider artists. The plausibly saintly Séraphine succumbed to the intensity of her vision, became deranged, and died in a mental hospital; watching that happen could be such a drag, but Moreau’s performance is a triumph, at once richly mysterious and plainly declarative — just like, wait for it — the creative process itself.

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