Panorama | Galas
The life of legendary Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis is painted in exquisite detail in this impeccably acted, incredibly affecting biopic. At the beating heart of Aisling Walsh’s film is Sally Hawkins (beloved by VIFF audiences for her performances in Happy-Go-Lucky and Made in Dagenham), who not only captures the contorted physicality of this self-taught painter, who contended with rheumatoid arthritis, but also exudes the creative spirit raging within her despite her debilitated frame.
The film’s backdrop is undeniably cinematic: the rugged beauty and expansive vistas of 1930s Nova Scotia. Likewise, its primary setting is unspeakably intimate: the comically tiny one-room house that Maud shares with misanthropic fish peddler Everett (Ethan Hawke), initially as his housekeeper but soon as his wife—albeit still placing behind his dogs and chickens in terms of his favoured tenants. Undaunted by his curmudgeonly nature, she’s inspired by the natural splendour surrounding their hovel to take up a paint brush. Operating with no preconceptions of what “art” should be, her charmingly unsophisticated, uniquely one-dimensional paintings strike a chord with tastemakers and soon she’s a leading figure in the Naïve Art movement. Of course, Maud isn’t motivated by fame but rather the creative act itself. Her exuberance proves infectious, ensuring that when she intones "I was loved" near the film’s end, we each count ourselves amongst those who adored her.
"[Tapping] into the same kind of upbeat energy she brought to her career-launching turn as Poppy in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, [Hawkins’] Maud impresses not so much for her perseverance—the opening scene demonstrates the enormous effort she must summon to lift brush to canvas—but for her indefatigable optimism."—Peter DeBruge, Variety