out of Five
Running time: 125
Impressively directed, beautifully shot and emotionally engaging biopic with an award-winning performance from Yolande Moreau.
What's it all about?
Martin Provost's award-winning biopic begins in 1914 with Seraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau) working as a cleaner in rural France. Uneducated and poverty-stricken, the devout Seraphine spends all her spare time creating vivid paintings, inspired, she says, by the voice of her guardian angel.
When art collector Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) moves into the house and sees Seraphine's work, he's instantly impressed and buys some of her paintings but war breaks out just as he's beginning to introduce her to the art world and it's 13 years before they see each other again. In 1927, Uhde is delighted to discover Seraphine has kept up her painting and he attempts to make good on his promise to make her famous but both art collector and artist are unprepared for the difficult times ahead.
Yolande Moreau (the concierge in Amelie) is terrific as Seraphine, the twinkle in her eye strongly hinting at an extraordinary inner life, despite her outward appearance and life of drudgery. Ulrich Tukur is equally good as the enlightened, homosexual Uhde, whilst there's strong support from Anne Bennent (as Uhde's sister Anne-Marie) and Genevieve Mnich as Seraphine's comically dismissive mistress.
The fascinating thing is that Seraphine doesn't even think of herself as an artist – she's acting out of religious devotion and a passionate relationship with nature. To that end, Provost brilliantly accentuates this with a series of powerful scenes showing Seraphine wading through water, hugging trees, peeing in long grass or plunging her hands into a bucket of blood at the butcher's.
The script is excellent, covering all the expected moments of the artist biopic (inspiration, discovery, success) but presenting them in ways that seem natural and organic rather than cliched. The story is both genuinely fascinating and utterly heartbreaking, whilst also making pointed observations about the nature of art and art versus commerce.
In short, Seraphine is a superbly directed, powerfully emotional biopic with a terrific central performance from Yolande Moreau. Highly recommended.