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on July 3, 2009
One of the things that is so fun about French culture is that what would pass for an "art house" film in the US is a much anticipated event here, in particular when it celebrates a national artist. While low budget, these films are produced with the utmost reverence and seriousness, then much discussed across the media. The contrast with crassly commercial celebrity culture could not be more stark.

This is a lovely film about a working class woman who is obsessed with painting in the mid 1930s. Without training, she set about realizing her vision whenever she could afford paint. By chance, her work is discovered by an art critic. Seraphine appears homely, dirty, and unintelligent, just a pair of hands for washing. But her painting is absolutely magical, in the naive style. Under his tutelage, she gains something of a following and begins to make a living, but then the war intervenes and she loses everything, or so it seems.

The actress heroine is absolutely amazing. Though apparently simple minded, she is gifted with talent and the strength to work. You completely believe in her - indeed, it is a true story.

Recommended. The stark realism that serves an artistic idealism is a rare combination. This is a serious art and psychological film, a reminder of how good cinema can be.
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on July 12, 2009
I agree with the other reviewer who noted that a film that is considered praisworthy in France (it won the Palm D'Or---the French equivalent of the Oscar) is relegated to art houses in the US. When I saw it yesterday, there was only a handfull of folks out. Quelle dommage!

This film is incredibly touching, the true story of an actual French housekeeper who, in her late 40's, while cleaning in a convent, heard her Guardian Angel tell her to paint. As a simple, devout peasant, she did what she was told, and began painting on small panels, all that she could afford. She skimped on food and coal in order to pay for white paint and varnish. She made the colors from blood, stolen from the butcher, flowers and plants and wax taken from votive candles in the church. She had no training and only painted what she loved, the flowers and trees in her beloved countryside.

Into her life, as if by the hand of the Angels, came a German art dealer who lived in nearby Paris. He was probably one of the few people on the planet at that time who would appreciate Seraphine's work. He had collected some Picassos and Braques and was interested in the paintings of Henri Rousseau and other primitives. He was amazed when he saw the small, simple painting of Seraphine's which had been left in the home of the woman for whom she cleaned house.

Thus begins the fascinating story of how these two lives intertwine. I won't spoil it for you by telling what happens. The film is beautifully told, containing much humour as well as pathos. One is drawn into the life of this amazing woman as well as of the man who discovered her genius.

Yolande Moreau, who plays Seraphine, also won a Palm D'or for her captivating performance. Ulrich Tukur is masterful, too, as the German art dealer who has his own share of personal sorrow.

I hope that this film finds a larger American audience. I urge anyone who likes fine work to see it.
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on October 26, 2009
A sad tale of the life of this wondrous artiste and her descent into mental illness. People around me, in a theatre, were openly crying. The acting was nothing short of Superb and the filming and scenes rare in movies today. Wish I could give it more than the Five stars!
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on April 19, 2010
Absorbing and beautifully made film with a compelling performance by Yolande Moreau as early 20th-century French painter Seraphine Louis. In addition to the many comments already made here by other appreciative viewers, I would add that the length of the film (2 hours) affords ample opportunity to represent the role of a single, working class woman in France during the period, 1910s-1920s. As a housekeeper and laundrywoman, paid little for her services and regarded typically with disdain by the more moneyed people for whom she works, Seraphine could easily have stepped from the pages of a Victor Hugo novel. The pastoral scenes, the great houses, the cobbled streets, and the costuming represent a world and a social order lingering on from the previous century.

The film makes clear the lot of one born poor and female into such a world. The work required to keep soul and body together is endless, grueling, and mind-numbing. Anyone else would drop from exhaustion at the end of such a day, yet with renewed energy drawn from her angelic forces and a deep love of the woods and fields, Seraphine is somehow able to paint by candlelight at night. While some viewers familiar with her story may find the film slow, what it wants us to care about is the hopelessness of a woman in her social position. Without the kindness of a handful of others and the chance discovery of her artistic gifts by a visiting German art critic and collector, Wilhelm Uhde, she would have disappeared into oblivion and all her breathtakingly inspired paintings with her.

The film also emphasizes her isolation. It underscores this theme with the parallel story of Uhde, who for unexplained reasons has retreated to this rural French town from his life in Germany. There are allusions to his homosexuality (the "blemish" of the film mentioned by another reviewer), but the film suggests that there is a connection here to his taking refuge far from what would be the center of his professional life in Berlin. A story Seraphine reveals of a long-lost love shows the two as similar in their sorrows and losses, each of them alone in the world. This is a lovely, meditative film. Without the narrative force of a Hollywood-style biopic to drive it forward and hold interest, you have to meet it half-way, but accepted on its own terms, it does not disappoint.
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on June 3, 2010
Seraphine is a magnificent film of what was to me an unknown French artist,Seraphine Louis,an impoverished cleaner,who was an extraordinary naïve painter.Self-taught,inspired by her religious faith,she had an inner compulsion to express divinely inspired visions through painting,reflections of a psyche walking a tightrope between ecstasy and mental illness.Alongside her arduous day jobs,Seraphine(Yolande Moreau) painted by candlelight,largely in secret isolation,until her considerable body of work was discovered by William Uhde(Ulrich Tukur),German art collector,who was mesmerized.

For most of her life, Séraphine painted in total obscurity, scrimping together enough money from the various types of menial labor on which she subsisted to buy a few art supplies. She mixed these with pigments of her own devising, colors distilled from plant and animal sources familiar to Séraphine from years of tending flocks and other outdoor work. These vibrant colors, which struck Uhde's eye as so unusual, are one of the hallmarks of her work. The subject of almost all of her paintings is the flora of the region where she lived, generally viewed from close up and refracted through the bizarre lens of Séraphine's inner vision. She claimed that heavenly voices directed her to paint, visions that later became delusions strong enough to land her in a mental asylum in Clermont, where she died after a long incarceration. These plants, often dotted and striped like caterpillars or other insects, seem to quiver with life, making them seem more like the fauna of a psychotic landscape.

His support had barely begun to lift her horizons when he was forced to leave France in August 1914; the war between France and Germany had made him an unwelcome outsider in Senlis, much as Séraphine was, given her eccentric persona. They only reestablished contact in 1927 when Uhde - back in France and living in Chantilly - visited an exhibition of local artists in Senlis and, seeing Séraphine's work, realized that she had survived and her art had flourished. Under Uhde's patronage, Séraphine began painting large canvases as large as two meters high, and she achieved prominence as the naïve painter of her day. In 1929, Uhde organized an exhibition,"Painters of the Sacred Heart," that featured Séraphine's art, launching her into a period of financial success she had never known - and was ill prepared to manage. Then, in 1930, with the effects of the Great Depression destroying the finances of her patrons, Uhde had no choice except to stop buying her paintings.

In 1932, Séraphine was admitted for "chronic psychosis" to the psychiatric ward of a geriatric hospital at Clermont, where her artistry found no outlet. Although Uhde reported that she had died in 1934, Séraphine actually lived until 1942 in a hospital annex at Villers-sous-Erquery, where she died friendless and alone[. (Some sources still state she died in 1934.) She was buried in a common grave.Yolande Moreau's performance touches the heart, witness the scene in the special asylum when she touches the chair on the balcony of her room.Ulrich Tukur(Lives of Others) is superb as Uhde. If I have one criticism it's that I thought many of the interior scenes were too darkly lit,although this enhances realism,I couldn't see the paintings with enough clarity.A winner of 7 French Academy awards,with best actress and best picture.
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on October 17, 2015
I found this film last night, and have since watched it twice. If that does not say something for this film, then I do not know what does.

However, in the interest of a little explanation...this film is beautiful. I would give it 4.75 stars probably if I could, for a few things that I was not fond of, but other than that, it is like a dream. A sad dream, but a dream nonetheless.

I do not think this film would be for everyone though, because it is highly artistic and evocative, as compared to most Hollywood movies that are highly commercial and made for the masses. Your average football Joe is probably going to be bored with this (sorry to guys named Joe - there are lots of great ones out there I am sure!) because it moves at a much slower pace than a cheerleader flick. It seems more interested in striving to capture the mental state of a poor, aging, artistic woman, who for much of her life has been put down and even mocked for her eccentricity.

As a result, she seems to trudge through life like a slow, tired horse, her fragile mind clearly reverberating on another level that is not able to really connect with most people. But what level? She sees beauty in nature, in water, in trees, and in flowers, and there she finds rejuvenation for her soul. She sees what many others do not see, the life in the world around her, and at night she disappears in a flury of candles and religious chants to paint the images of her mind. Workhorse by day, artist by night. It is as though her heavy, wrinkled, worn body conceals that of a beautiful but troubled child within.

No one takes her art seriously, however, until a famous art dealer discovers her, and eventually her life follows a path that will lift her up, and then cause her to come crashing down.

One thing that really troubled me, however, was why the art dealer did not seek her out after the war. He seems to come across her by chance, and I was let down since he knew of her situation. Of all people, I would have thought that he would have found her as soon as he could on purpose, if at least to help her. That was a big let down. But he still was a redeemable figure in many ways, despite the strange affair.

Like I said, this film is akin to a dream, but a sad one. The artist is so intriguing because of her fragility, yet it is her fragility that makes her a touching although painfully sad figure all the same. I would not recommend this to someone at a point where they are easily depressed though.
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Séraphine de Senlis - born Séraphine Louis (1864- 1942) - may not be a painter well known to the entire art world today, but the story of her life makes a compelling film. Writer Marc Abdelnour and writer/director Martin Provost have extracted all of the significant aspects of Séraphine Louis' life and have created a work of art as a film, much in the style of the way she created her life in art.

Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau) was born in 1864 in Arcy to a poor family and worked as a shepherdess until 1881 when she accepted the position as a domestic worker for the Sisters of Providence in Clermont: her life with the nuns enhanced her profoundly religious approach to her personal philosophy. In 1901 she left the convent, in part due to a communication with her angel that she must paint, to become a housekeeper for middle class families in Senlis. In her quiet manner she scrubbed floors and did laundry by day, using the pittances of income to procure some supplies so that she could paint her images of fruits, flowers, and leaves by candlelight at night in her tiny room. Self taught, she used pigment from strange sources - blood from the butcher, melted wax from the votives at the cathedral, pollen from the flowers of the fields, her only 'purchased' component was gesso and white paint from the artist supply shop in Senlis.

In 1914 the German art collector and critic Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) took a room in the house owned by Mme Duphot (Geneviève Mnich), one of the houses where Séraphine worked, and when Wilhelm discovered a painting by Séraphine he immediately recognized a painter of great promise and provided Séraphine with the first response to her artistic efforts. Wilhelm and Séraphine became friends and Wilhelm bought all of her art, insisting that she devote her time to creating art instead of scrubbing floors. With the backing of a collector and friend, Séraphine began painting in earnest, showing locally and selling art under Wilhelm's sponsorship, until 1914 when with WW I breaking out, Wilhelm had to flee France, leaving behind his collection of paintings as well as the close bond the two had formed. Mistakenly Séraphine thought Wilhelm's departure was to marry his roommate Anne-Marie (Anne Bennett), only to discover that Anne-Marie was Wilhelm's sister and fellow supporter of Séraphine: Wilhelm informed her he would never be able to marry a woman.

Séraphine continued painting as she lead her eccentric life in Senlis and in 1927 Wilhelm returned to France with his paramour - young painter Helmut Kolle (Nico Rogner) who suffered from tuberculosis - rediscovers Séraphine's art in a local Senlis exhibition, and realizes that she had survived and her art had flourished. Under Wilhelm's patronage, Séraphine began painting large canvases as large as two meters high, and she achieved prominence as the naïve painter of her day. In 1929, Wilhelm organized an exhibition, 'Painters of the Sacred Heart', that featured Séraphine's art, launching her into a period of financial success she had never known - and was ill prepared to manage. Then, in 1930, with the effects of the Great Depression destroying the finances of her patrons, Wilhelm had no choice except to stop buying her paintings. Séraphine's spending habits cause concern and in 1932 her psychotic behavior resulted in placement in the psychiatric ward in Clermont hospital where she spent the rest of her days, alone and without friends or admirers of her gift of art.

The simplicity of the manner in which this story is related with very little dialogue, atmospheric scenery as captured by cinematographer Laurent Brunet, and a musical score by Michael Galasso that combines sacred chants with idiomatic instrumental music of French ancestry. Yolande Moreau glows with a special radiance as the simple, spiritual, artistically driven Séraphine and Ulrich Tukar is the perfect balance as his own driven, unique 'first true collector'. This film is a little masterpiece and one that deserves the attention of everyone who cares about the lives of artists and the emergence of genius from strange vessels. Grady Harp, July 10
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on November 17, 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

Séraphine is a French-Belgian production about the housekeeper turned artist of the same name, who first gained fame between the last two World Wars. Creating films about famous artists are difficult since they're inherently not very dramatic. Highlighting the beauty of the artist's creation is one thing but designing a full-fledged drama concerning the artist and his/her interactions with the people they knew, could be problematic.

While I would not call the story of Séraphine a gripping tale where you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat, it does manage to hold your interest, despite its languid pace. It's in fact, a very well- crafted biopic, that features some sensational cinematography.

The story is rather simple. Séraphine is a devoted Catholic, middle-aged housekeeper who also happens to be a talented painter. She collects some of the ingredients for her paint from unusual sources including wax from candles in her local church, soil from plants and blood from a dead pig. One of the lodgers in a house she services is Uhde, an up and coming art critic and collector from Germany, who recognizes Séraphine's potential, despite disparaging remarks made about her artwork by the local gentry. Uhde even buys a few of Séraphine's paintings but eventually loses all his art possessions when World War I begins and he's forced to flee France, back to Germany.

When Uhde returns to France between the wars in 1927, he looks Séraphine up again and notes her skills have improved a hundred fold. Now she's creating large works of art on giant canvasses. For a time, Uhde is able to have Séraphine's artwork shown in well-known galleries and pays her money where she's able to rent her own apartment. The onset of the Depression causes the art market to collapse and Uhde is no longer able to provide Séraphine with financial support. This perhaps precipitates the onset of her mental illness and eventually Séraphine has to be hospitalized. Her treatment at the hospital is not good and she falls deeper into psychosis. Uhde finally is able to sell some of Séraphine's paintings by around 1935 and uses the proceeds to make her more comfortable at the hospital.

As noted above, 'Séraphine' is a slow-moving affair. Nonetheless, the method by which she creates her paintings, her religious zeal and her unusual relationship with Uhde, is enough for us to remain interested throughout. It's revealed at the end of the film that Séraphine never left the mental hospital and died in 1942. Uhde who was both gay and Jewish, was forced to hide in the South of France while the Nazis occupied the country. He died in 1947, two years after the end of World War II.
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on January 21, 2010
"Seraphine" is the true story of Seraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau, Winner of the 2009 Best Actress Award by National Society of Film Critics and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association)a simple and profoundly devout housekeeper who in 1905 at age 41, began painting brillantly colorful canvases. In 1912, a German art critic (Ulrich Tukur, "The Lives of Others") discovered her paintings while she was working for him as his maid. The film tells the story of the relationship between the avant-garde delaler and the visionary cleaning lady forging a testament to the mysteries of creativity and the resilience of one woman's spirit. "Seraphine" was the winner of 7 Cesar Awards (The French Academy Award) including Best Film, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. The Rotten Tomatoes rating is 89% based on 84 reviews.
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on March 29, 2014
It seems that the most gifted, tend to have problems coping with the world around them and Seraphine S. was no exception. Your heart does go out to her as life for the poor was extreme and the world was ever changing. Yet, her dedication to her art...from the making of her own paint...to the scraping by...even to her own peril...is what makes this movie very good. While the movie does revolve around her trying to survive in a world by herself....it also celebrates the connections we make to each other as human beings. A low budget film yet charming. While it is in French don't let the subtitle aspect scare you away. What you will find is that once you begin watching....you completely forget that they are speaking a foreign language....and you will lose yourself in the film. This isn't an action packed block buster....this is a great film for a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon. What I loved best was that the film was "honest"...and that is refreshing. Then when you finish...take time to look up her art. It is amazing and very much different. Once you see her art....you will recognize it immediately no matter what museum your visiting or art book in the book store.
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