SéraphineBy ELLA TAYLOR
Martin Provost's lyrical but bracing portrait of the early-20th-century French painter Séraphine Louis begins and ends with a quietly ecstatic shot of the artist nestling up to the rustling leaves of a majestic tree. In Provost's vision, the dirt-poor country housekeeper's elemental flower paintings, derided by her bourgeois neighbors, are powered by her love of nature and the direct line she believes she has to the Virgin Mary. She also has the support of Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German collector whose floors Séraphine scrubs with the same fervor that she brings to collecting chicken blood to mix her own brand of red paint. Séraphine earned the seven French César awards, including Best Actress for Yolande Moreau. The actress brings a potent restraint to this beady-eyed, unkempt and all but feral outcast who seethes with inner struggle between strength and appalling vulnerability. Séraphine's dependence on her patron — a cultivated but emotionally detached homosexual who knew a fellow outsider when he saw one — is almost as unbearably moving as her inevitable unraveling, when money and fame cut the artist off from her creative wellsprings and drove her over the edge.