Art history has proven that madness and genius may be inexorably linked, that the more tortured the creator, the more emotionally resonant their work becomes.
Martin Provost’s haunting film, Séraphine, which chronicles the troubled life of spinster painter Séraphine Louis in post-WW I France, exemplifies this theory. The picture, which swept the Cesar’s (France’s equivalent to Oscar), is slow, meditative and spare in its time-spanning storytelling. It’s also an utterly spellbinding work of serious cinema – elegant, unpretentious, poetic and unforgettable.
Yoland Moreau stars as the titular working class artist, who spends the first half of her life humbly cleaning the dirty floors of moneyed snobs who look down on her station and her eccentric ways.
When famous German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) arrives at the country hotel where Séraphine’s works are on display, it’s only a matter of time before he takes notice of this strange, naive woman’s stunning yet somewhat frightening paintings. But as interest in Seraphine’s work increases, and her financial situation changes for the better, her quirks slowly evolve into full-blown psychosis.
Sequences of the frumpy Séraphine weaving her way through a landscape of wind-whipped trees, flowing rivers and natural beauty juxtaposed with the dimly-lit misery of her working life are lyrical and hypnotic, as impressionistic as the demented floral explosions she captures on canvas.
And that seems to be Provost’s aesthetic – to create a film that captures in tone and mood the soul of Séraphine’s imagery.