The mystery of creativity and the oddity of genius are the central themes of Séraphine, Martin Provost’s moving and absorbing biopic about the painter Séraphine Louis, known as Séraphine de Senlis. A maid troubled by mental problems, Séraphine produced vibrant, expressive canvases inspired by her love of nature. These drew the attention of the German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde, who rented an apartment in one of the houses in which Séraphine worked. The film opens in 1914, covers Séraphine’s greatest years of artist productivity, and climaxes with her incarceration in an asylum in the 1930s.
Yolande Moreau’s performance as Séraphine deservedly won her the Cesar for Best Actress this year. Moreau’s is a striking, finely modulated performance that never descends to the level of sentimentalised caricature. (No mean feat, in a movie that features non-ironic tree-hugging.) Whether stomping through the Senlis streets, communing with nature or working with rapt concentration on her canvases, Moreau is a captivating and charismatic presence. But the movie is in no sense a one-woman-show. Rather, it’s Séraphine’s relationship with her patron Uhde (a deeply sympathetic Ulrich Tukur, The White Ribbon’s Baron) that is the beating heart of this soulful film, an alliance I found far more touching than the Keats/Brawne romance in Bright Star. I dreaded the asylum scenes, but the tactful Provost doesn’t dwell on them excessively, and succeeds in bringing the movie to a tender, quietly redemptive close. A lovely, resonant and rewarding film, Séraphine deserves a wide audience.