Hilma review – Sweden’s mystical outsider artist gets feelgood biopic

Film candyman Lasse Hallström has delivered a cloying but well performed version of the life of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint

The director is all wrong. Just as you wouldn’t call on Quentin Tarantino to make a movie about Monet and his waterlilies, Lasse Hallström is a perplexing choice for a biopic about the Swedish outsider artist Hilma af Klint. Hallström is the soft-centred director of sweet-natured heart-tuggers such as Chocolat and A Dog’s Purpose. Af Klint was completely unknown when she died in 1944, and is now finally getting the recognition she deserves; Tate Modern in London is staging an exhibition of her mystical abstract canvases next year. Under Hallström’s mushy direction, her life story is simplified, sweetened and feelgood-ified.

Still, there are some cracking performances, including by the director’s daughter Tora Hallström, who plays Hilma as a free-spirited carefree young woman with fiercely present, intense blue eyes. Raised in a nice, educated middle-class family, Hilma starts attending seances after the death of her beloved 10-year-old sister. So begins her lifelong obsession with spiritualism and mysticism. Cloyingly, in a handful of squirmy scenes, Hallström wheels out the consumptively pale ghost of Hilma’s sister, appearing to her in visions.

Far more interesting is the group Hilma establishes with four other women in the 1890s. Calling themselves the Five, they hold seances and meditations; when Hilma paints, she believes higher spirits are directing her brush. The dynamics of the groups are interesting and complex. Actor and model Lily Cole plays one of two working-class sisters made to feel as if they should know their place. Catherine Chalk is terrific as wealthy heiress Anna who pretends not to care about money but who clearly controls by means of her purse strings. Hallström’s script runs with the suggestion that Af Klint was lesbian – in a relationship here first with Anna, then with a nurse hired to look after her mother.

Af Klint did not show her work during her lifetime; she is portrayed in late middle age by Hallström’s wife, Lena Olin, as a batty old bird, muttering to herself on trams. What a shortchanging of Af Klint’s extraordinary life and work this is.

• Hilma is in UK cinemas from 28 October with an Australia date to be announced, and will be available on Viaplay UK in early 2023.

Contributor

Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hilma review – handsome biopic about mystic Swedish artist
Lasse Hallström explores the tumultuous life of Hilma af Klimt, now recognised as a pioneer of abstract art

Wendy Ide

30, Oct, 2022 @12:30 PM

Article image
Maudie review – Sally Hawkins adds a flourish to portrait of reclusive artist
This biopic of Canadian painter Maud Lewis sticks by its less-is-more ethos to the end, but Hawkins and Ethan Hawke turn a tragic tale into an absorbing one

Jordan Hoffman

03, Sep, 2016 @6:41 AM

Article image
Hidden Away review - makes a rich, heavy meal of a biopic of feral Italian painter
This account of the tough, troubled life of naive artist Antonio Ligabue boasts a committed performance from actor Elio Germano

Peter Bradshaw

21, Feb, 2020 @8:30 PM

Article image
Charlotte review – absorbing animation about a remarkable artist, murdered at Auschwitz
Keira Knightley gives voice to Charlotte Salomon, the German-Jewish painter who said she killed her own grandfather after he abused her, in a powerful but flawed biopic

Peter Bradshaw

07, Dec, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain review – Cumberbatch’s cat artist drowns in quirk
Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of eccentric Edwardian artist famed for his cute cats is brimful of star cameos but gets lost in mannered performances

Peter Bradshaw

03, Sep, 2021 @6:15 AM

Article image
Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint review – fresh canvas for art's mystical maverick
This documentary convincingly argues that the Swedish painter deserves a place in the mostly male pantheon of artistic genius

Cath Clarke

08, Oct, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Tom of Finland review – intriguing biopic of a gay liberation hero
Pekka Strang stars as the Finnish wartime artist Touko Laaksonen, whose homoerotic illustrations helped create the iconography of gay culture

Peter Bradshaw

10, Aug, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
I Am Zlatan review – compelling insight into the making of a football superstar
Jens Sjögren’s sympathetic film avoids the cliched sport movie formula of triumph over adversity by focusing on what happens off the pitch

Cath Clarke

01, Jun, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Hilma af Klint: Swedish mystic hailed as the true pioneer of abstract art
Almost 80 years after her death, a biography will be published this month, Tate Modern plans a 2023 exhibition, and she is the subject of a film, as she is finally recognised as a visionary artist

Dalya Alberge

16, Oct, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Mrs Lowry and Son review – Redgrave and Spall paint a delicate portrait
Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall steal the show in this low-key tale of the great artist finding success while caring for his curmudgeonly mother

Peter Bradshaw

28, Aug, 2019 @12:15 PM