Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(France/Belgium, 2008)

Based on a true story. In 1914 Séraphine Louis is a woman of 50 who spends her days on her knees scrubbing floors and her nights making amazing paintings by candlelight. She mixes her own paints from things she finds around her, and hasn’t the money for canvas. This is about as humble as you can get. She is noticed by Wilhelm Uhde, a visiting art critic who was an early supporter of Picasso and the discoverer of another “naïve” artist, Rousseau. He tells her how good she is and raises her hopes, but then WWI intervenes and he has to flee to his native Germany. Years later, in 1927, he discovers her again and is amazed by her progress. She is painting huge canvases now. We see the real pictures and they are stunning. He becomes her patron, gives her a monthly stipend, sells some of her stuff, and plans a big show.

Here’s where you expect her to be uninterested in the material trappings of life, since her inspiration comes from above, from the angels. But she loves the idea of being comfortable, of moving out of her shithole of an apartment and into a big house. She loads up on silver and crystal, has an expensive wedding gown made, figures she should buy a fancy car. All of this is way beyond her means, but she seems to feel that millions and millions of francs are just around the corner.

And that could have happened, but the Depression intervenes and suddenly the folks who might have bought her stuff are selling their collections instead. Uhde tries to explain this to her, but she isn’t having it. She was so on the verge of being somebody, only to have it all snatched away. She snaps, and spends the rest of her life in an insane asylum. It’s always been clear that some people are just not cut out for success (read some of the horror stories of those who have won huge lotteries), but seldom have I seen someone so utterly undone by crushed aspirations. This is a slow and thoughtful movie, and lives or dies on the performance of Yolande Moreau, who won the Cesar, as did the film itself. She well deserved it. And Séraphine’s paintings now hang next to Rousseau’s.