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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SERAPHINE (2008)

All but faultless bio-pic about the mysterious & difficult life of Modern Primitive painter Séraphine de Senlis. Discovered by happenstance when employed as scrub-woman/housekeeper for Wilhelm Uhde, a renowned art collector and early buyer of Picasso, Braque & Rousseau, he returned after WWI exile to find she had matured into an even more complete & compelling artist. From sturdy peasant stock, but mentally fragile, Séraphine painted in a state of near religious ecstasy on small wood panels with paints rendered from gleaned elements, field flowers, pig’s blood, candle wax from church offertory candles. Later, Uhde supplied her with professional supplies and a stipend which led her into dangerous fits of grandiosity just as the Great Depression was altering the art market to his disadvantage. (The first half of the film does a particularly fine job at detailing the sheer labor involved in Séraphine’s daily routine circa 1914.) Her paintings, usually fruits, trees or flowers laid in circular patterns, come off as a cross between Rousseau, Van Gogh & Grand-mère Moses, but with a hallucinatory, mesmerizing repetitive quality all her own; instantly recognizable, instantly memorable. Beautifully paced by director Martin Provost, and lovingly rendered on Fuji 35mm stock by D.P. Laurent Brunet, its success none-the-less rests largely on a superb cast, especially Yolande Moreau as the tight-lipped, but increasingly manic Séraphine. The film pretty much swept the boards at the French Césars, deservedly so.

DOUBLE-BILL: While not really comparable as a filmmaking experience, viewers haven’t gotten this far inside the artistic mind since Andrei Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV/’66.

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