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4.6 out of 5 stars
Seraphine [DVD] [2008]
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160 of 162 people found the following review helpful
This film, which has won many French Academy awards including best picture and best actress, tells the true story of Seraphine Louis, a middle-aged cleaner and maid, who, living alone in the town of Serlis in great poverty, is driven through religious fervour to paint. She mixes pigments from natural elements - pondweed, flowers, blood from the butcher's shop, wax from the church candles - and her paintings, which are not of religious subjects but of trees, flowers and fruit, the things she sees around her, are colourful, beautifully crafted and quite original. Quite by chance a distinguished German connoisseur, collector and dealer, Wilhelm Uhde, sees one of her paintings. From there and over a long period of time her story develops, not straightforwardly (the First War intervenes, Uhde has to flee France, he assumes she has died but finds her again almost by chance) but eventually productively, so that her work is recognised and bought by collectors, but there is a cost for her - or perhaps her own peculiar nature works itself out - and her personal story does not end happily. Now her paintings are highly valued and, as Seraphine de Senlis, she is regarded as an important artist.

It is an astonishing story, very faithfully told in this often beautiful film. Much of the film is slow-paced, entirely appropriately for its subject, but it does not drag. The visual composition and cinematography are marvellous. The world of pre-War and post-War rural France is convincingly recreated. But the greatest glory of the film is the beautifully understated yet powerful performance of Yolande Moreau, who captures the curious nature of Seraphine - relgiously ecstatic, passionate about her painting, naive, occasionally unexpectedly insightful, direct and determined, very vulnerable - completely absorbingly. This is a very unusual film about a very unusual woman. All the other performances are good and fully worthy of the central one - and the film does tell a very good story, though it is in many ways a sad one. It is not difficult to see why it appealed so much to the French judges, and it is certainly a distinguished and compelling film.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2010
It is a wonderful film - with wonderful filming and a wonderful interpretation by Yolande Moreau as Seraphine Louis!
The colours are important not only in Seraphine's paintings but in the filming as well. You really get to understand how hard life was for her. And yet she was able to use the nights to paint wonderful paintings.
The film made an enormous impact on me, I felt really worn-out after the film finished, so many emotions were to be handled. Tears and some comic, understanding the tragedy and the beauty of her life.
Highly recommended!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2010
What a beautiful film, delicately written and executed it is both inspirational and sad. As I'm not fluent in French the sub-titles helped. A most enjoyable film, albeit not a happy one. Hauntingly beautiful. As an art lover I was eager to learn more about this artist.
I believe the film allowed me a glimpse into Seraphine's innocent and tragic life....I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who is interested in knowing more about this little known artist.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Seraphine is a magnificent film of what was to me an unknown French artist,Seraphine Louis,an impoverished cleaner,who was an extraordinary naïve painter.Self-taught,inspired by her religious faith,she had an inner compulsion to express divinely inspired visions through painting,reflections of a psyche walking a tightrope between ecstasy and mental illness.Alongside her arduous day jobs,Seraphine(Yolande Moreau) painted by candlelight,largely in secret isolation,until her considerable body of work was discovered by William Uhde(Ulrich Tukur),German art collector,who was mesmerized.

For most of her life, Séraphine painted in total obscurity, scrimping together enough money from the various types of menial labor on which she subsisted to buy a few art supplies. She mixed these with pigments of her own devising, colors distilled from plant and animal sources familiar to Séraphine from years of tending flocks and other outdoor work. These vibrant colors, which struck Uhde's eye as so unusual, are one of the hallmarks of her work. The subject of almost all of her paintings is the flora of the region where she lived, generally viewed from close up and refracted through the bizarre lens of Séraphine's inner vision. She claimed that heavenly voices directed her to paint, visions that later became delusions strong enough to land her in a mental asylum in Clermont, where she died after a long incarceration. These plants, often dotted and striped like caterpillars or other insects, seem to quiver with life, making them seem more like the fauna of a psychotic landscape.

His support had barely begun to lift her horizons when he was forced to leave France in August 1914; the war between France and Germany had made him an unwelcome outsider in Senlis, much as Séraphine was, given her eccentric persona. They only reestablished contact in 1927 when Uhde - back in France and living in Chantilly - visited an exhibition of local artists in Senlis and, seeing Séraphine's work, realized that she had survived and her art had flourished. Under Uhde's patronage, Séraphine began painting large canvases as large as two meters high, and she achieved prominence as the naïve painter of her day. In 1929, Uhde organized an exhibition,"Painters of the Sacred Heart," that featured Séraphine's art, launching her into a period of financial success she had never known - and was ill prepared to manage. Then, in 1930, with the effects of the Great Depression destroying the finances of her patrons, Uhde had no choice except to stop buying her paintings.

In 1932, Séraphine was admitted for "chronic psychosis" to the psychiatric ward of a geriatric hospital at Clermont, where her artistry found no outlet. Although Uhde reported that she had died in 1934, Séraphine actually lived until 1942 in a hospital annex at Villers-sous-Erquery, where she died friendless and alone[. (Some sources still state she died in 1934.) She was buried in a common grave.Yolande Moreau's performance touches the heart, witness the scene in the special asylum when she touches the chair on the balcony of her room.Ulrich Tukur(Lives of Others) is superb as Uhde. If I have one criticism it's that I thought many of the interior scenes were too darkly lit,although this enhances realism,I couldn't see the paintings with enough clarity.A winner of 7 French Academy awards,with best actress and best picture.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2011
The film, Seraphine, is about a relatively little-known painter who lived a hard life of toil, with small moments of enjoyment. Her works are now appreciated, but generally she was not acknowledged widely during her lifetime.
The film is a most sensitive portayal of the most important period in her life and of the chance meeting of the art dealer who came to live in her village in France prior to WW1.
Brilliantly directed and acted, this film can be highly recommended to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2015
The film asks interesting questions about art.

Where does it come from? How is it made? How are we able to value it?

The subject is Séraphine Louis (1864-1942), an unschooled amateur painter whose works and talent were discovered by an art expert who did not know he was looking for them. She (Séraphine) came to his attention unexpectedly. He was Wilhelm Uhde (1874-1947), a German art scholar, critic, collector and dealer who had been living and working in Paris prior to the First World War.

As the film begins Uhde has just rented rooms in the house of Madame Duphot in the small town of Senlis in the countryside north of Paris. He has come here for the quietude and isolation, having escaped the stress of living and working in the capital. He intends to write. Séraphine works part-time as a washerwoman and cook for Madame Duphot. She is paid just a few sous for her hard labour of scrubbing floors and washing sheets and clothing in the local river. We get the impression she comes from peasant stock and this is true. Though not revealed in the film, Séraphine was born on a farm and lived for a time as a shepherdess. Though she was able to read and write, her education was limited. At a young age she lost both her parents to disease and was cared for by an elder sister. In her teens she did domestic work in a convent. Some of the sisters there cared for her and became her friends. We see two of them in the film, singing together with Séraphine in a spirit of love.

As the film shows, Séraphine was deeply affected by her time in the convent. She is a devout believer in God's grace, mercy and compassion. In the local church she kneels and prays to the image of the Holy Virgin.

She talks to birds, insects, flowers and trees. She swims and bathes naked in the local stream. She sings and talks to herself. She collects nettles, branches, twigs. We see her look up at the sky, the sunlight glinting through the branches and leaves of a tree, her face joyous, radiant, beatific. We also discover that the nature that surrounds her is her. No separation, no barriers. And it is this, her immersion in the heart of creation, that becomes the wellspring of her art, an art of devotion and revelation. Pure feeling, sensation, acceptance.

She paints flowers on wooden boards. Wild and unruly, they are tangled and intense. She is too poor to buy paint, so she improvises and creates her own from scratch — from animal blood, candle wax, roots and plants and mud. She is more than a so-called naïve painter. She paints from the earth itself.

When Uhde sees this he is astonished. He has an eye for originality. We get the feeling he is weary of artifice, of derivative talent and ideas. He has come to Senlis for freshness. He finds it here in green fields, streams and blue skies. But he also finds it in Séraphine's art. It is real, honest, authentic. It shows something greater than talent. It has heart, depth, soul. Seeing this, he encourages her. But she is suspicious at first. It must be mockery. She is used to being laughed at, her background, manner, speech and appearance all sources of derision. She is poor and we know how the poor are treated – with pity, revulsion, condescension and contempt.

But Uhde is sincere. He knows and understands beauty. With the ardour of a suitor he courts her trust, winning her acceptance at last. To the extent he can, he becomes her patron. By day her coarse hands are worked raw, but at night she continues to paint, singing her creations into being by candlelight in her simple bare garret.

The beauty of it all is that only Uhde understands. He is the future and modernity. He has the critical eye. To everyone else Séraphine is just the mad washerwoman who climbs trees to sit with birds. So, along with his Braques, Dufys, Derains, Picassos and Rousseaus, he is also gaining Séraphines for his collection.

But irony and tragedy, never far afield, strike. The Kaiser declares war. Belgium is invaded. It is the summer of 1914. The peace and tranquility of Senlis and France are sundered. Wilhelm Uhde is international, a morally stateless lover of French culture, but now his passport marks him out as an enemy. He must flee for his life and does so to Switzerland. Paris, Senlis and Séraphine are abandoned.

Uhde survives the war. The good German is not destroyed. He follows his instincts and returns to what he loves — to art in France. He is in Chantilly near Senlis in 1927 with his sister Anne-Marie. It is she who sees a small notice in the paper about a town art exhibition in Senlis. Uhde hears the news with great sadness and regret. The war destroyed so much. Surely Séraphine and her art could not have survived it. But he must know. He must go. He drives to Senlis in his shiny new motorcar. The exhibition is as advertised: a show of local artists. There are several rooms, many paintings, few interested observers. Uhde saunters through them, hardly looking, largely unimpressed. Pretty landscapes, pedestrian portraits, dreary drawings, bourgeois mediocrity. But finally he comes to a room and pauses. We see his face, the lens lingering there. His eyes widen and into them come relief and joy. She is alive. Her art lives!

The canvases are huge, some as much as two meters high. The art is advanced, better than ever. Patron and painter are reunited. He puts her on a steady monthly income, paying for her art supplies and provisions. She moves house, buys new furniture and dresses, comes up in the world. But life has been hard. She is old now, aged 63.

1929 arrives. The stock market in New York crashes. The world economy is shaken. The art market collapses and Uhde's funds dwindle. Stranded again, but this time it's too much for Séraphine. Success and admiration, so close for grasping, are withdrawn. Her heart breaks, her mind is lost. She will spend her remaining years in an asylum.

The story mainly ends here but has an epilogue. Uhde cannot abandon her a second time. He helps pay for her care till the very end.

The war came and destroyed many things, but it could not kill beauty, love and respect. This tender, wondrous film reminds us why art is vital in our lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT - IF YOU DON'T ALREADY KNOW THE TRUE STORY

This is an unusual, slow-paced and absorbing biopic about Seraphine Louis, a poorly-educated and deeply religious single woman living in the town of Senlis in eastern France in the first decades of the 20th century. Despite great adversity, Seraphine eventually became a highly regarded `naïve' artist of some renown whose work had a distinctive style and is now featured in any comprehensive history of 20th century art.

Written and directed by Martin Provost (Cocoon, Le Ventre de Juliette) `Seraphine' won a number of French Film Academy awards. Yolande Moreau plays the somewhat eccentric but deeply sympathetic Seraphine to perfection, creating a private and secretive character whose private life and motivations are slowly uncovered as the film progresses. The hard, unglamorous life of a poorly educated single woman in the early 20th century is portrayed very well, where every sous she earns from laborious hours as a domestic cleaner is needed for food and to buy the materials from which she manufactures her own paints - also using the wax from votive candles taken from the church, animal blood from the butcher and pigments pressed from wild flowers she gathers. Driven by an inner passion and religious fervour, she paints at night in the privacy of her rented room, by candlelight, and shows her paintings to no-one. Even the viewer is not shown the paintings until well into the film.

The story of the discovery of Seraphine's extraordinary paintings by German art critic Wilhelm Uhde is brilliantly told. Being German, he has to flee France in the summer of 1914 but returns 10 years later. Eventually, by accident, he finds Seraphine again, begins to champion her work and bring it to international attention.

Life did not end happily for the eccentric and child-like Seraphine. Psychiatric instability - possibly a causative factor in her extraordinary artistic visions and the driving energy behind her painting - eventually led to her detention and incarceration. Uhde continued to care for her welfare and ensured she had the maximum comfort possible with a private room and access to the garden, but she never left institutional care and died in 1942.

This is a touching true story, and a very good (if not exactly `feel-good') film. The dialogue is not too wordy, so for non-French speakers reading the subs is no problem. The cinematography is beautiful and overall it's a quality piece of work with rare and serious subject matter. For me, it drops a star only because of the rather downbeat ending to what was ultimately a rather tragic story. Nevertheless, highly recommended viewing: it's a pity high-quality European films like this get such limited distribution outside their home market.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT - IF YOU DON'T ALREADY KNOW THE TRUE STORY

This is an unusual, slow-paced and absorbing biopic about Seraphine Louis, a poorly-educated and deeply religious single woman living in the town of Senlis in eastern France in the first decades of the 20th century. Despite great adversity, Seraphine eventually became a highly regarded `naïve' artist of some renown whose work had a distinctive style and is now featured in any comprehensive history of 20th century art.

Written and directed by Martin Provost (Cocoon, Le Ventre de Juliette) `Seraphine' won a number of French Film Academy awards. Yolande Moreau plays the somewhat eccentric but deeply sympathetic Seraphine to perfection, creating a complex and secretive character whose private life and motivations are slowly uncovered as the film progresses. The hard, unglamorous life of a poorly educated single woman in the early 20th century is portrayed very well, where every sous she earns from laborious hours as a domestic cleaner is needed for food and to buy the materials from which she manufactures her own paints - also using the wax from votive candles taken from the church, animal blood from the butcher and pigments pressed from wild flowers she gathers. Driven by an inner passion and religious fervour, she paints at night in the privacy of her rented room, by candlelight, and shows her paintings to no-one. Even the viewer is not shown the paintings until well into the film.

The story of the discovery of Seraphine's extraordinary paintings by German art critic Wilhelm Uhde is brilliantly told. Being German, he has to flee France in the summer of 1914 but returns 10 years later. Eventually, by accident, he finds Seraphine again, begins to champion her work and bring it to international attention.

Life did not end happily for the eccentric and child-like Seraphine. Psychiatric instability - possibly a causative factor in her extraordinary artistic visions and the driving energy behind her painting - eventually led to her detention and incarceration. Uhde continued to care for her welfare and ensured she had the maximum comfort possible with a private room and access to the garden, but she never left institutional care and died in 1942.

This is a touching true story, and a very good (if not exactly `feel-good') film. The dialogue is not too wordy, so for non-French speakers reading the subs is no problem. The cinematography is beautiful and overall it's a quality piece of work with rare and serious subject matter. For me, it drops a star only because of the rather downbeat ending to what was ultimately a rather tragic story. Nevertheless, highly recommended viewing: it's a pity high-quality European films like this get such limited distribution outside their home market.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2011
You realise that this film must be pretty good to have beaten "Mesrine" when the Cesar award went to best film. (It picked up 6 other awards at the Cesars too.) Had it not been for this fact, the lack of publicity and seemingly uninteresting subject matter would have mean't this film would have passed me by. Although I discovered it late, it is fascinating to compare this with more recent French films such as "Partir" and "White Material" which have enjoyed considerable critical success this side of the Channel but which are totally inferior to this film in every aspect.

This film charts the discovery by a German art critic and dealer that the cleaner of his lodgings has a talent for painting in the same style of the artists he was trying to promote at the same time. The first part of the film teasingly prevents the viewer seeing what Seraphine is painting and concentrates upon her innocent life-style and how she collects the materials she used to produce her art. However, whilst the appeal of her paintings takes her by surprise as she was simply inspired by her faith to paint, the tone of the film ultimately makes you realise that it can only end in tears. Where the film really takes off is with the departure of the critic from France at the outbreak of the First World War and how she survives before the critic Uhde rediscovers her and the market for her work takes off. Whilst obviously lacking the budget of "Mesrine", there is plenty of nice period detail, numerous vintage cars and picturesque settings to make the film very appealing and even though the film is a little bit sad, this is by no means depressing and I was mesmerised by both the story and the originality of the paintings when the director ultimately allowed the viewer to see what was being produced. I am not an art fan by any means but the pictures transpire to be particularly beautiful.

Yolande Moreau puts in a brilliant performance as the simple and child-like Seraphine whose life is immeasureabaly improved by the change in her fortunes but whose tale proves ultimately to be tragic. Whilst Seraphine is obviously someone who might have been considered to have been classed as "simple" in her time, I was intrigued how the attitude towards her changed from the beginning of the film in 1912 to the late twenties when she started to gain a reputation. Ultimately, the film does not have a happy ending and it is doubftul as to whether the sight of an empty garden seat has ever been used so emotionally in a film before. My advice would be to watch this film even if you have no interest in art. This is a brilliant piece of film making and every bit as good as the BBC 's production of Steven Poliakoff's "The Lost Prince" which covers some of the same issues.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I have not seen such a remarkable film for years. It is sad that the knowledge of this film has to be confined to the few lucky ones, like me, who looks beyond what Hollywood dictates, and stumbles over this film by chance.

France should do more for us poor foreigners and send their spectacular films over there end over here with a louder recommendation for all to hear, because one needs to see films like this much more often. It is a gem a and bright star on the film sky and a lot more people should be given the chance to see it.

If you are tired of senseless TV shows and stupid movies, go for this one, you will not regret it. Séraphin will leave a lasting impression on you, and you will go looking for her art afterwards. It is amazing so little is known about her, she is surely one of the great masters of Modern Primitive Art.
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