Nowadays it’s a rare occasion when a film takes you by surprise in terms of subject and performances. Such is the case with the stunning and moving, “Maudie.” Starring the brilliant Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, director Aisling Walsh’s film takes viewers to the picturesque, but tough locale of Novia Scotia from the 1930s to 1960s. The movie examines the lesser-known (at least to American audiences) folk painter Maud Lewis as she makes her way through life, art and love.

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Sally Hawkins and Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis was a self-taught artist (often dubbed "Art Naive") who painted for sheer happiness, which was a feat in itself since Maud was afflicted with a twisted back and leg, and arthritic, gnarled hands. Amazingly Hawkins takes on those afflictions with aplomb.

Hawkins’ Maud is a survivor, looking to make a life of her own, out from under the restrictive watch of her Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose).

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Maud answers an ad of the reclusive and stern bachelor, Everett Lewis (Hawke) who seeks a housekeeper. An uneasy alliance follows with the gruff, and at times mean Everett, but Maud stands her ground, doing chores, cooking, and painting. She ultimately makes a home out of sparse surroundings.

Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis

Abandoned by his parents, Everett lacked all forms of social skills. Although hardworking, selling fish, wood scraps, and peddling odds and ends, Everett was able to support himself, but house upkeep wasn’t in his skill set.

Everett takes on, but then resents, Maud’s lack of great housekeeping techniques. But then again, Everett resents most things. Hawke turns in a skilled performance as Everett, a prickly guy who we come to relate to. Through their backstories (and fine performances) we come to understand how Maud and Everett’s relationship works.

Paintings and 12 x 12 house

Even more extraordinary, beyond Maud’s paintings and physical hardship, is that her success was all achieved within the confines of a 12 x 12 square-foot house.

Yep, you read that right. Everett’s home was 12 x 12 square-feet, and the two lived there even after Maud achieved painting success. The house became an artwork in itself, as Maud painted walls, cabinets, stairs, doors, and windows. Everett didn’t seem to mind as long as he left alone his corner. Today, the Maud Lewis House, along with its been paintings, has been uplifted and moved to Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

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Oscars and talent behind the camera

Without a doubt, Sally Hawkins should be noticed around award season for her spectacular performance as Maud. Ethan Hawke deserves accolades as well. Additional credit goes out to Aisling Walsh’s fine direction and Sherry White’s taut but moving script. Cinematographer Guy Godfree captures Maud and Everett’s world as well as the beautiful and bleak Nova Scotia seasons.

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Also to note are the fine score by Cowboy JunkiesMichael Timmins and original songs by Mary Margaret O’Hara and Lisa Hannigan. “Maudie” is the perfect counterpoint to the many bloated summer films, as well as to those who love fine art and moving true stories.

“Maudie” is 117 minutes, Rated PG-13, and screens at the Los Angeles Film Festival before opening June 16 in Los Angeles and New York.

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