Friday, June 5, 2009

The Moreau/Provost SERAPHINE opens: The artist as you've never seen her

"It is as it was." That delectable little sentence was supposedly uttered by the penultimate Pope in regard to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. While I take exception to the truth of that critical assessment, I find the late Pope's words work wonderfully well in describing Séraphine, written and directd by Martin Provost and starring the brilliant Belgian actress Yolande Moreau in the title role. Everything we see and hear in this film seems real and right -- from Ms Moreau's revelatory performance as the artist to the "look" of the movie: its every prop, from an old automobile to the artist's notebook, from the plates that set the table to the unkempt grass growing outside a country home. Seraphine takes you back nearly a century into a world you may think you know but will not have really experienced until you view this film.

I first saw and reviewed the film, last March as part of the FSLC's Rendezvous with French Cinema series, during which it won -- deservedly -- most of the important French César awards this year. Now, the smart, on-the-mark Music Box Films (Tell No One, Il Divo, Shall We Kiss?) has picked it up for distribution, and it opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Seeing the film again last night made me appreciate all the more its pleasures -- quiet and intense, as is Séraphine herself (except when she's doing her amazing singing). There's not a lot of dialog in the movie; instead it's the visuals that carry things: nature, the art Séraphine makes from it, and the wonderful period clothes, architecture (this is France, so it's all still there, of course) and the artifacts.

What this unique film does best of all is take you into the world of the artist as no movie I've seen has managed before. Moreau, without explaining anything, is consistently specific and believable, and Provost chooses how and what to show and tell so well that this world -- the artist, her work and surroundings -- comes beautifully, richly to life. The only other major performance of note is that of the fine German actor Ulrich Tukur (above, right) as the art dealer Wilhelm Uhde, an emotionally reserved but smart and caring fellow who discovers her work. Tukur is, as always, excellent -- and the right choice for this role.

As much as I love my big, wide-screen monitor, I'd recommend seeing Séraphine on the theatrical screen. It, and Ms Moreau, are such visual treats that your eyes deserve them movie-size. In NYC, the movie opens today at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center. In Los Angeles, look for it at The Landmark; South Coast Village, Santa Ana; Town Center 5, Encino; and Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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