‘Hilma’ Review: Biopic of an Abstract-Painting Pioneer

Depicting the interior inspiration of an artist is a challenge for a film director, which is why most biopics of creative folk tend to focus instead on gossip and surface—tempestuous affairs, bad behavior and the like. In “Hilma,” however, Sweden’s most successful living filmmaker has attempted to unlock the imagination of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a pioneer of abstract painting who has only recently started to receive her due. Af Klint was little appreciated at her death but her stature has been steadily rising since her retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2018.

Writer-director Lasse Hallström, perhaps the second-most-noteworthy Swedish filmmaker of all time after Ingmar Bergman, has enlisted his wife, Lena Olin (who made her screen debut in a Bergman film), and their daughter, Tora Hallström, to play the painter in old age and in youth. “Hilma” isn’t wholly successful; some fantasy elements come across as syrupy, recalling the often-maudlin films, such as “The Cider House Rules,” “The Shipping News” and “An Unfinished Life,” that Mr. Hallström made for Miramax at that company’s weepy Oscar-chasing peak. The new film is sensitive to and respectful of its subject, however, and does honor to Af Klint and her mad visions.



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