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One of the first abstract painters in Western art history, a Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint, is the subject of the lush biopic Hilma. She sought to challenge the whole world of art in the late nineteenth century though at first she easily mastered more traditional forms of illustration like portraiture and landscape pictures. However, Klint’s mind soon moved into a higher spiritual sphere causing her to draw symmetrical line-based images which went beyond form.

This must have all been triggered by her family’s keen interest on studies based on numbers and plants respectively, her group of pals (known as The Five introducing her to Theosophy), the underlying concept of High Masters including her idol who was called Rudolf Steiner that was an architect in 1900s and always wanted to find a link between science and spirituality. Tragically following this period, Klint believed that her art with so much deep-meaning was not acceptable in this world hence decided to hide it for two decades after leaving it behind forever.

During a conference hosted by Nordic Association for Art Historians in Finland mid-1980s these abstract paintings found their way into public. Now available on Prime Video and Roku devices for US customers is Lasse Hallström’s biographical drama about three-time Academy Award nominee Hilma which premiered on Viaplay – a streaming service that specializes in European series and movies as well as those from Scandinavia.

It attempts to capture the life of this highly revolutionary artist who had no place for herself within society during those days when nobody could appreciate what she did. This biographical rendition has Lena Olin (Hallstrom’s wife) and Tora Hallström (his daughter) playing an older or younger version of Hilma af Klint respectively. Although Olin has acted in more films than her daughter thus far they both provide different interpretations of the artists’ character well displayed on screen.

In part one of Hilma’s life, there is tragedy and conflict (such as when her sister died suddenly) and some over-the-top acting that is quite melodramatic on occasion. However, the young Hallström does a nice job at this point of balancing such scenes with similar amount of naïveté while aspiring to be an artist. Pleasure she feels while painting, through love or spirituality or being with peers is all very evocative.

In contrast, Olin portrays Hilma as an older embittered artist who carries the weight of a negative neglectful world burden and whose heart still hurts from ignorant insults and longs for friendlier times gone by. In fact now Hilma no longer mingles with colleagues or friends but communicates to spirits instead seeking others’ help in ensuring that her work gets displayed somewhere. Her daughter has more screen time than Olin in this movie; however, it would have been better if there were additional scenes featuring the latter. Hallström wife makes it easier for us to understand what happens between conflicting parties here.

In order to appease a broader audience, it would seem as though Hilma’s main motives (spiritualism, the High Masters, and general mysticism) are somehow overlooked in favor of an adventurous and highly picturesque story. If all of a sudden different shades of blue and yellow whisk viewers away during a clip of Hilma painting or green-screened outdoor city shots from archives are used as backdrops to create a special time-out-of-time effect, there is enough here not only for genre enthusiasts but also art lovers generally.

But mysticism is also injected into small bits like when Hilma half see her sister who has died in a glass water (that the audience must believe) or when she accidentally chants same phrases with one of her friends during a séance. It is stylishly emotional but very confusing. In place of these moments there could have been more contextual dialogue showing what exactly these various women actually believe.

Despite the fact that no factual recordings ever talk about Hilma af Klint (letters, diaries, gossips) explicitly stating that she was queer or lesbian, Viaplay exclusive movie takes this idea quite far which helps to open up even more in terms of character development. Her conflicts not only come out through misinterpretation of her art but they can be seen from how she relates with people; thus making one helluva tense scene (although it might be too much for drama). This entire arc reveals another side that the viewers wouldn’t know about Hilma while also helping the film run smoothly towards its end.

Hallström surely knows how to turn loving partners into ever-increasing issues mischievously. British actors Catherine Clark and Jazzy De Lisser who later become Hilma’s lovers at different stages throughout the movie deliver opposite performances. While Anna played by Clark gradually reaches boiling point with her discomforts (and Clark does well at reaching it), Thomasine played by Lisser is too small to be seen at times. Hence, one soon wonders if Thomasine was just written as a foil for Anna in order to hold Hilma’s attention. The love triangle does not matter so much in the actual denouement except that it pays only one party back. The other just dissolves into nothingness.

This tension builds up further when Hilma encounters Dr. Rudolf Steiner, who had been part of Ms. Klint’s life and dismissed her works at several points also. Why would someone like Hilma instinctively believe that a man she has never met before is her soul mate (at least twice)? Her quest for this man now turns into an uncomfortable, almost cringy affair. While she is already challenging societal norms by showing that a woman can have interest in intellectual abstract art openly, the character of Steiner is one of those which undermines all these strong independent messages; he was practically a cult leader).

However, the film finally comes through at the end and manages to overcome these deficiencies as Hilma delivers her powerful final message. Similarly, this is how the movie which takes two hours starts with Olin’s rendition and ends up with her desperate depiction of Hilma. She takes a simple bus ride and turns it into an incredibly intimate, unselfish act. For instance in (asking for 20 years till she reveals her art because she thinks that people cannot understand what he does), a jump ahead in time to conclude does satisfy those who had been wondering if our leading lady could leave behind her struggle with heritage long desired.

She has transformed the world for the better in so many respects that even art critics have begun treating her interpretive forms differently. Notwithstanding, less strong than his earlier films such as My Life as A Dog (1985) or The Cider House Rules (1999), Hilma’s ultimate voyage towards becoming an artist will make you want to know more about Swedish mysticism.

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