Yolande Moreau's portrayal of the French painter Séraphine de Senlis straddled the line between art and madness, much like the way she brilliantly made a career as a performer who was not afraid to push boundaries. The classically trained actress-comic-film director began her career with a bang, staging a very successful one-woman show titled "A Dirty Business of Sex and Crime" (1982) all across the globe. Moreau gained critical acclaim for the poignant romance "Quand la mer monte" ("When the Sea Rises") (2004) as a middle-aged stage actress whose world falls apart after falling in love with a younger man. But it was Moreau's turn as the eccentric, manic and brilliant artist in the biopic "Séraphine" (2008) that made her an international phenomenon. Moreau's Séraphine was a large, ungainly cleaning lady who secretly painted still life portraits of flowers, fruits and fields with a creative urge that was, at times, spiritual as well as sensual. Because the artist barely spoke, Moreau conveyed her emotions through her soulful eyes, in the pained way her body hunched over as she scrubbed floors, and with her plain face registering unbridled happiness as she pressed pigments onto canvas. Many deemed her enigmatic performance in "Séraphine" as a true work of art and a real testament to Moreau's inexplicable talent and passion for acting.
Yolande Moreau was born on Feb. 27, 1953 in Brussels, Belgium. Her love of the stage began early; she studied theater as a young girl before moving on to learn the art of clowning as an adult. Moreau also shared her stage knowledge with budding actors while working as an educator in a children's theater in Brussels. In the early 1980s, she went on a world tour to perform her one-woman show "A Dirty Business of Sex and Crime," a highly personal reflection on love and mortality. Using elaborate makeup, masks and wordplay, Moreau effortlessly blended comedy and drama to make her audiences laugh even while she tackled some of the play's horrifying circumstances like murder. After her successful world tour, Moreau joined the Jerome Deschamps Theatrical Group and quickly became one of the troupe's star performers. During this time, Moreau landed a recurring part on the TV series "Les deschiens" (Canal, 1994) playing various characters. Her film-acting debut was in acclaimed French director Agnes Varda's film, "Vagabond" (1985), as a lovesick woman.
Moreau's performance in "Vagabond" led to more roles in a number of French films such as "Les trois frères" ("The Three Brothers") (1995), "Le voyage à Paris" ("The Journey to Paris") (1999), "Paris, je t'aime" ("Paris, I Love You") (2006) where she portrayed a mime, and had a minor role as a concierge in "Le fabeleux destin d'Amelie Poulain" ("Amelie") ( 2001), a romantic comedy starring Audrey Tautou as a sweet and innocent Parisian who, while helping others find their own happiness, accidentally finds true love along the way. After 12 years at Jerome Deschamps, Moreau worked on a script that was highly influenced by her experiences as a stage actress who played in concert halls and auditoriums in rural France. Her memories of that time all converged into the film "Quand la mer monte," playing an aging performer whose world goes awry after she falls in love with a carefree, younger man. Her quiet, yet moving performance in the film won Moreau a prestigious César Award for Best Actress in 2005 and made her an international star.
Moreau's critically acclaimed performance in the César -winning French drama, "Séraphine," thrust her into the limelight and made her a strong contender for an Academy Award nomination in early 2010. Directed by Martin Provost, the film was based on the life of Séraphine de Senlis, a French artist known for her unabashed use of colors to create stunning nature paintings and was considered one of the greatest self-taught artists of the early 20th century. "Séraphine" also explored the artist's unusual bond with the German art dealer Wilhelm Udhe (Ulrich Tukur), who hired Séraphine to clean his room before discovering, and eventually funding, her artistic genius. To prepare for the role, Moreau took painting classes and sought the help of a priest to teach her Latin psalms. Critics heaped praise on Moreau's layered portrayal of Séraphine, a large, unattractive cleaning woman who secretly paints because her guardian angel instructs her to do so. Because she lives in bitter poverty and cannot afford to buy paints, Séraphine uses natural pigments - turpentine from church candles, oxblood, crushed flowers, and clay - and combines them with other elements to create vibrant, almost sensuous interpretations of cowering flowers, lush fruits and leafy trees. Moreau deftly brought to life the sadness that also surrounded the artist who, even when she achieved success, remained deeply troubled and haunted by the voices she heard in her head up until her death in a French mental hospital in 1942. Moreau's heartbreaking performance in "Séraphine" was one of her best and deserving of another César Award for Best Actress in 2009.
Moreau went back to her comedic roots as the voice of The Queen in the animated film, "Le veritable histoire du Chat Botté" ("The True Story of Puss'N Boots") (2008), the classic fairytale of a granary cat who uses a wealth of clever ploys and magic spells to help his master find fame, riches and experience true love with a princess. Moreau also starred in the black comedy "Louise-Michel" (2008), as a jobless ex-con who instigates a plan to put a hit on her former boss. The versatile actress starred in the horror film "La meute" ("The Pack") (2010) as a woman who traps and forces her truck-stop restaurant customers into a human farm and feeds them to her "kids," a pack of ghouls who come out of the earth each night to be fed fresh human blood.