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When a woman values her art over personal happiness, the result can yield sheer, mesmerizing beauty. Tolstoy wrote that women prevail because of their “ingrained talent” to achieve happiness, but at the same time this talent becomes their downfall in achieving true greatness. Indeed, had Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt or Marie Laurencin sacrificed a chunk of their art for romance and family or just plain mental tranquillity, would they have been able to give the world what they did?

This is the question that hovers continuously over “Seraphine,” an imagined biopic (which often work better than true-to-life stuff) of early-20th-century painter Seraphine Louis, better known as Seraphine de Senlis, after the French province where she spent most of her life.

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