Films & Schedules

  • Séraphine

  • Martin Provost

French, German
121 minutes

Production Company:
TS Productions/France 3 Cinéma/Climax Films/RTBF
Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnour
Production Designer:
Thierry François
Laurent Brunet
Ludo Troch
Philippe Van den Driessche
Michael Galasso
Principal Cast: Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent, Geneviève Mnich, Nico Rogner

Sunday September 0708:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Monday September 0803:30PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 1 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Films about painters tend to concentrate on the masters, but Martin Provost turns his camera on a little-known yet endlessly fascinating artist known as Séraphine de Senlis, a simple housekeeper whose brilliantly colourful canvases adorn some of the most famous galleries in the world. Sparse and frankly realized, Provost's fictionalized portrait of this forgotten painter is a revelation. Yolande Moreau's performance as Séraphine is a towering accomplishment – she literally becomes the artist onscreen.

By day, Séraphine is a housekeeper whose hours are occupied with the solitary duties of laundry, cleaning and ironing. In her spare time, however, she immerses herself in the wonders of nature. There she talks to the trees, birds and insects around her. It is the only communication available to her, and her intimacy with the natural world inspires her to express her feelings on canvas.

Desperately poor, she either steals the things she needs for her art or relies on what is around her. She makes her own paints from the soil, the blood of animals and oil stolen from the votive candles at church. Alone in her room, she studiously paints wondrous canvases of flowers. Then new tenants take over the house where she works, and her life takes a turn.

The year is 1912. Wilhelm Uhde, a German art critic and collector, moves to Senlis. The locals certainly don't take Séraphine or her painting seriously; she is, after all, just an ignorant housekeeper. But while out for dinner one evening, Wilhelm is struck by a painting, and is shocked to discover that it is the work of Séraphine. Overwhelmed by her talent, he eventually sets up an exhibition and offers her money to free up her time to paint.

Apart from Moreau's exquisite performance, the great strength of this film is the manner by which Provost complements the simplicity and directness of his subject. Every moment matches the vibrant character of its protagonist, yet the story has its own tragic dimensions. A testament to creativity and the resilience of one woman's spirit, Séraphine is a marvel – a celebration of art and nature and an acknowledgment of the costs involved.

Piers Handling

Martin Provost was born in Brest, France, and worked as an actor and theatre director before turning to film. A published author, his feature films as writer-director include Tortilla y cinema (97), Le Ventre de Juliette (03) and Séraphine (08).

Cadillac People's Choice Award