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'Séraphine': Q&A with Martin Provost

Yolande Moreau in Seraphine by Martin Provost

The winner of 7 2009 French Academy Awards, including best film, best original screenplay, and best actress, Martin Provost's Séraphine stars Yolande Moreau as painter Séraphine Louis, a.k.a. Séraphine de Senlis, a plain, poor, uncultured, devoutly Catholic, and emotionally unbalanced housekeeper who became known as a major artistic talent in the early 20th century.

Written by Provost and Marc Abdelnour, Séraphine focuses on the artist's relationship with avant-garde art dealer Wilhelm Uhde (played by Ulrich Tukur), who one day discovered that his cleaning lady in the town of Senlis was a masterful painter.

A sleeper hit in France, Séraphine has been met with raves on this side of the Atlantic as well. The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas called it “the best movie made about a painter since Maurice Pialat's exquisite Van Gogh in 1991 — and one of the only ones that truly grasps how close artistic genius dwells to the realm of madness,” while in New York Magazine David Edelstein enthused that Séraphine is “sublime … one of the most evocative films about an artist I've ever seen.”

Séraphine opens today in the United States in select theaters. In Southern California, this Music Box Films release is currently playing at The Landmark in West Los Angeles, the Town Center 5 in Encino, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and the South Coast Village in Santa Ana. On June 12, the film will also be playing at the Los Feliz 3 in Los Angeles.

In New York City, Séraphine is playing at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center.

Filmmaker Martin Provost has kindly answered a few questions (via e-mail) about Séraphine and his work with César winner Yolande Moreau and Lola winner Ulrich Tukur. (Tukur won the German Film Academy's Lola for his performance in Florian Gallenberger's John Rabe.) The original Provost interview was conducted in French and has been translated into English by yours truly.

Official site.


Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur in Seraphine


Why did you choose to make a movie about the life of Séraphine de Senlis?

What intrigued me the most when I became interested in Séraphine Louis was the fact that a mere housekeeper, at a time when social classes were kept so far apart, were so impenetrable, dared to disregard everything that was forbidden in order to do what she knew she was made to do: to paint. And the fact that she met Wilhelm Uhde, which may seem to many as a mere fateful encounter, though to me it seems more like a consequence of her own actions. If Séraphine had not upset the social codes of the time, she would never have met Uhde. Also, I dare to believe that the principles of fate are tied to the determination we have within ourselves to escape from our destiny, be it emotionally or socially inauspicious, so as to move toward a more human, more personal fate.

To me, Séraphine made a success of her life. Even if the end of her life was more than difficult, she remains a revolutionary – a woman at a time when it wasn't good to be a woman; one who succeeded as an artist. Those like her are quite rare. And she paved the way. Right away, I had the feeling that if I were to make her live again on film, that she would speak to people, to the inner depths of each of us.


Did you and your collaborator, Marc Abdelnour, need to adapt Séraphine to Yolande Moreau – or vice versa?

Before beginning the writing process with Marc, I had already thought of Yolande for the part. I went to meet with her. As it happens, both of us live in the country – in the same countryside where we shot the film, in Vexin, about an hour from Paris. I'd say we hit it off. She comes from a stage background and so do I. We understand one another. We wrote the role for her, hearing her voice in our heads.

Martin Provost Interview: Part II

'Séraphine': Q&A with Martin Provost © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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1 Comment to 'Séraphine': Q&A with Martin Provost

  1. Carol Stewart

    Visually stunning, a painterly cinamatic composition, allowing one to enter into one's life redeeming sences. Just surviving, eating, working become creative again here. I am humbled by great art again, thank you.