Make it Snappy: Seraphine

Martin Provost's acclaimed film about the French painter S (c)raphine de Senlis (Yolande Moreau) is playing right now in Hamilton

During the Renaissance, artists commonly took the name of their home village or city -- for example, Leonardo da Vinci. Wilhelm Uhde, the German art critic who discovered S (c)raphine Louis in the French village of Senlis shortly before the outbreak of World War I, adopted this practice to distinguish the creator of ecstatic paintings of nature in the style he called "modern primitive." As we see in French director Martin Provost's 2008 film of the same name, the reticent, sometimes socially abrasive S (c)raphine (Yolande Moreau) at first believed that Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) was mocking her when he compared her work -- rendered in home-made finger paints of stolen church candle wax, blood from the butcher shop, pond scum and other "secret ingredients" -- to those of the old masters. In fact, when not traipsing through the countryside in her own version of pre-"Avatar" rapture, S (c)raphine is most often seen on her knees -- scrubbing, painting in her locked room, or praying. The film's other pervasive image is that of a door or window opening into startling light beyond the dark, cramped interiors of Senlis homes and shops -- fitting for a portrait of this early "outsider" artist who found only meager sustenance from most social relations, and also suggestive of her access to transported spiritual states.

Provost's dramatization of the relationship between the two -- ruptured by war, madness and Uhde's own vicissitudes of loyalty -- won seven C (c)sar Awards in France (including Best Actress for Yolande Moreau's luminous performance in the title role) and in December was named Best Foreign Film By or About Women by the national Women Film Critics Circle here. Last Sunday, at their awards meeting in a Manhattan restaurant, the National Society of Film Critics also designated Yolande Moreau best actress in a 2009 film. (A friend and sometime collaborator of countrywoman Agnes Varda, the Belgian Moreau can also be seen in Varda's currently running, much acclaimed "The Beaches of Agnes" -- she also had a part in Varda's 1985 film "Vagabond" -- and her own "The Sea Also Rises" from 2004 is available at Netflix).

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