Sunday, June 13, 2010


I've been trying to remember where I saw the poster or ad for Séraphine because that quick glimpse of an ad led me to a great movie. Séraphine, who I have never heard of before this film, is a French artist who lived from 1864-1942 painting in primitivism. Her style similar to that of Van Gogh's and her color is vibrant and lively. Séraphine was self-taught, poor, and eccentric but produced paintings that her patron, Wilhelm Uhde, thought were brilliant.

In the film, Séraphine is played by Yolande Moreau. You will instantly recognize her as the Madeleine Wells from Amélie, the landlady whose husband left her for someone else in South America. At first, I could not take Moreau's acting seriously because of the contrast in tones of the two films. But slowly, I began to realize that Séraphine was probably in fact just as outlandish as the way Moreau was portraying her.

Two things I really enjoyed about the film is its narrative of the topics of religion and the way Séraphine worked as an artist. Séraphine was highly religious. She went to church, worshiped Virgin Mary, and had small shrines in her tiny apartment. She said her inspirations when painting comes up above. During certain parts of the film, however, as the film suggests, her talent morphed into madness--a madness that stemmed from religious beliefs. Moreover, her downfall was caused by an event mixed with her psychological problems and her delusional belief that God will save her.

The other thing that makes this film so wonderful is how the film shows Séraphine working relentlessly despite her living conditions, WWI, and the overall hardship of her life. As a household maid, Séraphine made a meager living. On the side, she washes linen and works at a butcher. She did not have the money to buy paint and canvas. Despite this hardship, she still painted by finding natural ingredient to mix her own paint. She collects mud by the river, wax from votive candles at church, blood from the butcher to mix her own paint. The results are vivid and rich colors that supposedly have stood the test of time as they are still as beautiful as they were when painted.

Because of this beautiful film, I will be looking for Séraphine's paintings the next time I visit museums in NYC.


A clip showing works by Séraphine:

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