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, the direct line she believes she has to the Virgin Mary, and the support of Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German collector whose floors Séraphine scrubs with the same fervor she brings to collecting chicken blood to mix her own brand of red paint. If Séraphine's untutored primitivism is a romance imposed by the filmmaker—in real life, she sat in on art classes for young ladies in Paris—it's a compelling one that seduced an adoring French public and earned the movie seven Césars, including a well-deserved Best Actress award 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 but came and went in her life without warning—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.
Moreau in the field.
Opens at Guild 45, Fri., Aug. 14. Not rated. 125 minutes.