FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Séraphine

If you don’t know Yolande Moreau by name, you’ll likely recognise the star of 'Séraphine’s' distinctive phizog, the talented performer a veteran of modern European cinema familiar to Western audiences for roles in breakout French-set confections such as 'Amelie' and 'Paris, je t’aime.'
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Séraphine
If you don’t know Yolande Moreau by name, you’ll likely recognise the star of Séraphine’s distinctive phizog, the talented performer a veteran of modern European cinema familiar to Western audiences for roles in breakout French-set confections such as Amelie and Paris, je t’aime. In her newest outing, director/co-writer Martin Provost’s gentle portrait of posthumously-feted painter Séraphine Louis, Moreau finds herself centre-screen, and it’s her lived-in performance that elevates an otherwise elementary biopic and justly earned the actress top honours at the recent Cesar Awards. We first meet the impoverished Séraphine leading a pauper’s existence, eking a humble living as a servant in picturesque Senlis. Using vibrant concoctions derived from the slops of her day-to-day (a vial of blood from a cookpot, the melted wax of a liturgical candle), the clandestine creative brushes her fantasised still-lifes after hours and to her landlady’s chagrin. When one of her pictures catches the eye of art collector Wilhelm Uhde (The Lives of Others’ Ulrich Tukur), a canvas of opportunity materialises as he finds himself increasingly infatuated with the work of the woman who’s been turning his sheets. Then the Great Depression brings with it economic recession and Séraphine’s flirtation with happiness proves tragically short-lived, her subsequent extravagant splurging and cries of “My paintings are blessed!” paving a quick path to the local bughouse. Moreau sinks into her part with an unfussy aplomb, losing herself amidst the artist’s odd-duck demeanour without ever making sport of her encroaching psychosis. Tukur, too, is memorable as her on/off benefactor, though neither can obscure the fact Séraphine could hardly be accused of advancing its genre" that it’s so consistently engaging is owed to its leads. Provost’s direction is respectful at best, dutiful at worst, and one can’t help but wonder what magic a Julian Schnabel could have worked with Séraphine’s heart-yanking story by delivering a film as aesthetically inventive as its subject so duly deserves. http://www.frenchfilmfestival.org Séraphine DIRECTOR: Martin Provost SCREENWRITER: Marc Abdelnour and Martin Provost CAST: Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent, Adélaïde Leroux, Geneviève Mnich RATING: MA15+ RUN TIME: 125 minutes

Gerard Elson

Wednesday 4 March, 2009

About the author

Gerard Elson is a Melbourne-based writer. He occasionally blogs at http://celluloidtongue.wordpress.com.