Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Séraphine **

Director: Martin Provost
Cast: Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent, Nico Rogner

Séraphine Louis (Moreau) is a peasant working as a cleaning lady in the town of Senlis. She goes about carrying a basket and talking to trees and plants. Her odd behavior is frowned upon by the bourgeoisie who have no idea that the simple creature would become one of the most famous exponents of the Naive art movement.
She is discovered accidentally by German art collector and critic Wilhelm Uhde (Tukur) who would become her patron until her death after WWII.
The handsome production extends over three decades as Séraphine evolves from rudimentary painter to demanding, but Provost's direction feels stilted and aimless.
When he should've been trying to tap into what makes this woman want to paint, his events are very matter-of-fact and reverential.
He just shows us things; we see Séraphine stealing candle wax from a church to make her paint and we see Uhde kicking his male lover (Rogner) out of bed to avoid being seen by his friends.
But he never really goes beyond this and the reason of the film's existence is often left up in the air.
Provost's lack of aim, which he might've considered impressionist storytelling, is compensated by Moreau's committed performance.
Her Séraphine is an introverted force of nature, she singlehandedly convinces us that this woman might be more than meets the eye.
It's because of her that the for a moment the movie makes us wonder if her work was divine intervention or a stroke of insanity.
Otherwise the movie passes as inconspicuously as the peasant did in Senlis.

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