Sunday, December 27, 2009

DVD Views: Seraphine

Seraphine ***
Directed By:
Martin Provost
Written By: Marc Abdelnour & Martin Provost.
Starring: Yolande Moreau (Séraphine Louis), Ulrich Tukur (Wilhelm Uhde), Anne Bennent (Anne-Marie Uhde), Geneviève Mnich (Mme Duphot), Nico Rogner (Helmut Kolle), Adélaïde Leroux (Minouche).

Seraphine (Yolande Moreau) is a maid who lives in the French countryside. She saves all of her coins and places them aside. She works almost constantly, and there is something not quite right about her. She doesn’t seem to understand normal social interactions with anyone. She used to live with the nuns, but has recently left. She is good at what she does, but most of the people she works for look down on her, like they look down on most of their help. When she tells them that she left the nuns because the Virgin Mary told her to paint, they mock her.

One man is different though. Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) has recently come to the area to work on his writing. He is a famous art critic and collector. One day she sees one of Seraphine’s painting almost by accident, and he is moved by the work, He cannot believe that it was painted by the woman who has been mopping his floors for the past few months. He encourages her to continue to paint, and explain her horizons. She does. But then, when WWI breaks out, he has to leave, and Seraphine is stuck going back to her old life. In the late 1920s, Uhde returns, and is shocked to discover that Seraphine has continued to grow as an artist, and the work she is doing now moves him dramatically. He becomes her patron, and for the first time, Seraphine has real money. Then the stock market crashes, and Seraphine once again is left with nothing. This time, her fragile psyche cannot take it.

Martin Provost’s Seraphine is a quiet, beautiful little film. Seraphine is played in an excellent performance by Yolande Moreau. She is a woman who cannot quite see the reality all around her. She knows she has to work hard, but is clueless when it comes to dealing with people. She knows when she is being mocked, and doesn’t trust anyone, but with Uhde, she lets her guard down. She is content painting by herself, but when Uhde sees her paintings, and encourages her, she allows herself to be swept up in his world. She doesn’t even understand it when he looks at her and tells her that he will never marry a woman, ever. She thinks it is a profession of love to her. It’s not. It is a brilliant performance of a woman with a mental illness.

Moreau, and the beautiful imagery of the movie, is reason enough to see it. What isn’t as good are the performances surrounding Moreau’s. Tukur is fine as Uhde, but the film doesn’t spend enough time with him to become a truly memorable character. The film tries to get us to feel for him in its second half, but since we are not attached to him, his pain seems somewhat remote. I also never really understood why if Seraphine’s work was so brilliant, only Uhde seemed to realize it. The painting themselves are interesting, yet after a while, they all blended together. The film never really lets us soak in any of the art work.

But what remains in Seraphine, what makes it a good movie, is the portrait of the artist as a woman with a mental disease. She eventually is put where perhaps she belongs. It is a tragic end to a great artist. The film is good, but it could have been better.

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