The old chestnut about suffering for one's art finds new life in Martin Provost's wrenching bio-pic of Séraphine Louis, the "Modern Primitive," as critic Wilhelm Uhde insisted on calling her. Forget the schmaltzy Edith Piaf of La Vie en Rose — Séraphine is a true tortured artist, with the shimmering creepiness of Gustav Klimt.
A despised housekeeper in the provincial town of Senlis, she creates her uncanny paintings in secret until the vacationing Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) spots one and decides to make her a star in Paris. Then World War I intervenes, and it isn't till a decade later that Uhde can fulfill his promise — whereupon the big time proves too much for the simple, religious visionary.
The painterly images afford a brooding, sometimes luminous setting for Yolande Moreau, who conveys Séraphine's weird (a scene in which she parades through town in a wedding dress is absurd and tragic) and saint-like turmoil without sentiment or stereotype.