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Time Out says
Tue Nov 24 2009Winner of Best Film at France’s César awards, holding off stiff competition from ‘The Class’ and ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’, this utterly beguiling biopic about a cleaning lady with the artistic gifts of a Van Gogh is just a bit special. The vibrantly expressive paintings of Séraphine de Senlis currently hang in museums across France, but before and after World War One, when her response to the God-given beauties of the landscape simply poured out on to canvas, her employers and local townsfolk alike merely regarded her as a borderline-certifiable old coot. Significantly, one of the people for whom she cleaned was visiting German art critic Wilhelm Uhde, famed for discovering ‘primitive modernists’ including Henri Rousseau, and though Uhde’s later championing of this visionary outsider made her art-world reputation, it was to prove a turbulent experience for all concerned.
Touching on issues of proprietorial connoisseurship and class disenfranchisement, the film makes a tacit case for the marginalised as the truest source of creative worth. What’s particularly mesmerising, though, is how the sheer physicality of Yolande Moreau’s remarkable central performance – conveying the chapped realities of unrelenting toil – readily co-exists with its portrayal of Séraphine’s fiercely private spirituality. Director Martin Provost wisely chooses not to over-explain his peasant heroine’s exploits or milk them for thematic point-scoring or facile melodrama, instead approaching the material with the sort of transcendent simplicity a Robert Bresson or even a Maurice Pialat might have admired. His accomplishment is not just to suggest the limitless mystery of human possibility but to ennoble us by faith in its existence. Truly, a celluloid epiphany.
Author: Trevor Johnston