Published Jul 16, 2009The biopic of naïve early 20th Century painter Séraphine Louis, which won over French hearts, winning seven Cesars and a best actress award for Yolande Moreau, proves technically proficient, aesthetically engrossing and nearly flawless in theory but makes little impact on the whole for a few key reasons.
Beginning and ending with Séraphine nestled beneath a sturdy green tree on a grey landscape, the film seeks to connect the idiosyncratic artist with the earth that inspired her feral floral paintings. We understand that she feels connected to nature and that her passion for art is channelled directly from the Virgin Mary — a point the film makes by negating the fact that the actual artist did have some formal training — but we are never invited into her perspective.
We understand that she is an outsider, which in turn connects her to a fellow pariah, art collector and closeted homosexual Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), who offers us our only insight and perspective on the irksome artist, which proves problematic, as his eyes are not always present within the context of the film.
As an underdog, we champion her success, given that she is initially a socially inept, dirt-poor maid who demonstrates an unexpected talent that's initially handled derisively by her upper-class employers despite her constant martyrdom and tendency to demonstrate bizarre behaviour.
But mostly we notice the rich colour and complexity of her compositions in relation to a dreary landscape of earth tones, giving us an appreciation of her art, even if the artist is perhaps too off-kilter to even approach identification.
This disconnect aside, Séraphine is an impressively crafted film, boasting complex performances with a dignified and apropos canvas for the isolated painter to seep onto. It's just a shame it doesn't pack the emotional punch it intended. (E1)