Friday, December 18, 2009

Séraphine (Rhoades)

“Séraphine” – an Angel In a Bridal Gown
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You never know the talents people hide. I’m acquainted with a clown who’s a great sculptor. A handyman who carves marvelous canes. A bartender who’s a gifted potter. A street person who writes lovely poetry.

And a German art collector named Wilhelm Uhde had a cleaning lady who painted beautiful pictures.

That’s the subject of “Séraphine,” a biopic about French artist Séraphine Louis that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In 1914 Uhde (portrayed by Ulrich Tukar) moves to a village just outside of Paris, hoping to get away from the hustle and bustle of his life in the city. The small room he rents comes with a cleaning lady, a middle-aged woman who is an object of derision by locals for her eccentricities. She scavenges odds and ends from the roadside, toting them away while the curious look on.

Turns out, she uses these scraps for paintings that she does at night by candlelight.
When Uhde discovers that crazy Séraphine (veteran actress Yolande Moreau) is a talented neo-primitive artist, he tries to encourage her work, but she’s suspicious of his patronizing attitude.

The film traces their relationship “through war and peace and Depression and madness.” They are separated during World War II when the gay art collector must flee for his life. Thinking that she died during the war, he’s surprised on his return to France to discover her paintings exhibited in a local gallery. Even so, she’s still living an impoverished life as a housekeeper. He tries to become her benefactor, but it’s difficult because the Depression thwarts his plans. And Séraphine is spiraling into greater madness.

After roaming the streets in a white bridal gown and hearing voices of angels, she’s interred in a psych ward. Ironically, her paintings have started to sell for big money. Wilhelm Uhde is frustrated in his attempt to help her, this sad woman with a hidden talent.

This 2008 French-Belgian production was directed by Martin Provost, best known for “Le ventre de Juliette” which won the Prix Tournage at the Avignon Film Festival. “Séraphine” won Best Film at the César Awards and the Newport Beach Film Festival.

But let’s not overlook the subject of the film, Séraphine. In addition to creating this faithful biography, Provost has tried to do what Uhde couldn’t – organizing a recent Musée Maillol exhibition of Séraphine’s work to preserve the memory of her naïve talent.
[from Solares Hill]

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