Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire ★★★★

gonna tell my kids this is how they invented expressionism

i could make a lot of jokes right now, about how a female-created lesbian drama is somehow the exception and not the rule, what a blissful world it is where the men are nothing but extras, etc. etc. but, in all honesty, i just spent the entire last hour crying basically non-stop in the movie theater (in tandem with a lady from a couple of seats over, who was doing the exact same thing), so, like, i wont i guess.

i think i might be repressed and/or lonely. just a thought.

in all seriousness, though, this is pretty far from a perfect movie. the romance and the drama is pretty pared down, except for a few key scenes where everything gets turned up to 11 and suddenly youre either watching a low-grade telenovela or a softcore porn flick or both. (i knew there were going to be sex scenes; im not an idiot. i just didnt, when i first entered the movie theater, expect to see so much saliva on this given holy day.) the scene around the bonfire is excellent, and im just on the whole in love with the repeated "on fire" imagery. the aesthetics are immeasurably good: you get the sense that the light is somehow richer, semi-opaque, like an oil painting, so kudos to that colorist. the gentle compassion the camera has for its female protagonists is also evident, which is welcomingly refreshing. i especially loved the intimacy of the unmoving camera, letting whole conversations and moments just unravel. the strange burlesque of heloise first appearing on screen in her cloak, the way her hood falls down as she runs. a lot of in- and out-of-film analysis to be made about the validation of the female gaze, of female art (though when hegel talked about self-recognition of the other, i doubt this is what he meant). and finally, of course, the acting is superb. in spots some of the realest romance ive ever seen, to be frank.

but is the film really saying anything too great? is the script, the backbone of the film, really anything to write home about? not particularly. i mean, i liked the allegories and i liked the repeating motifs and all, as stated above, but as far as romance dramas tend to go the writing is a bit tenuous. still, you cant deny that the film is groundbreaking simply by being the love story that it is. and that i cried like an idiot for most of it.

the last thing i will say, in closing: for the entirety of the last scene, there was nothing i wanted more than for her to turn towards the camera one last time, to feel the actress's arresting gaze in a final send-off. and theres a lot to say about that.

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